Helping Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence Obtain and Retain Safe and Affordable Rental Housing

It is a difficult decision for a survivor of domestic abuse to leave an abuser, and when living in rental housing, obligations under the lease can make the decision even more difficult. In addition to victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault and stalking may also need to move from their apartments and break their leases for safety. The impact of domestic abuse, dating violence, stalking and sexual assault extends well beyond physical and emotional harm to the victim. Changes to the Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in 2013 and changes to state statutes effective August 1, 2014 facilitate the victim’s escape from a violent home, and protect them from adverse actions by the landlord because of violence in their home. Read more >>

Submitted by: Christy Snow-Kaster, Esq., Central Minnesota Legal Services; Dorinda Wider, Esp., Mid Minnesota Legal Aid; and Chris Hanrahan, Resource Attorney, Volunteer Lawyers Network

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Minnesota Property Tax Refund for Renters and Homeowners

The Renter’s Credit (CRP) 
This time of year tenants ask questions about their Certificate of Rent Paid (CRP), also called the Renter’s Credit or Renter’s Refund. Some basic information:

  • Tenants may be eligible for the renter’s refund if their household income, after subtractions for up to five dependents, is under $57,170. Tenants who are disabled or older than 65 are allowed an additional subtraction of $3,900, and contributions to certain retirement plans may also be subtracted. The total renter’s credit for a household is capped at $2,000.
  • For a tenant to get this refund, the landlord must complete and return to the tenant a CRP. The landlord is required to give tenants a CRP by January 31st.
  • The CRP must be included with the completed Minnesota Property Tax Refund Form M1PR.
  • Filing due date is August 15, 2014 – Returns can be filed up to a year after the due date.
  • If the landlord has not given the tenant their CRP, or has filled it out improperly and refuses to correct it, the tenant can get a Rent Paid Affidavit (RPA) and use it in place of the CRP to get their refund. Make sure that tenants have already made an effort to get their CRP before they get a RPA.

How to get a RPA: Tenants should call the Minnesota Tax Help Line with the following information:

  • Landlord’s name, address and phone number
  • Address of rental unit and county where it is located
  • Whether the unit is an assisted living facility
  • Number of tenants in the unit, dates the tenant rented the unit, and the monthly rent
  • Whether rent is subsidized (Section 8, HUD, etc.)
  • Tenant’s name, current address, and daytime phone number
  • Tenant’s spouse’s name and Social Security number
  • Tenant’s Social Security Number

Minnesota Property Tax Refund for Homeowners 

Homeowners also may be eligible for a Minnesota property tax refund in some situations. Some basic information:

  • Minnesota has two property tax refund programs for homeowners: the Homestead Credit Refund, for homeowners whose household income after subtractions is less than $105,500, and the Special Homestead Credit Refund, available to homeowners of any household income whose property tax has increased by more than 12% from 2013 to 2014. Homeowners may be eligible for one or both, depending on income and the amount of property tax owed.
  • The home must be classified with the county as the owner’s “homestead”, which is the home the owner lives in for tax purposes.
  • To apply for either or both of these refunds, use Minnesota Property Tax Refund Form M1PR.
  • Filing due date is August 15, 2014 – Returns can be filed up to a year after the due date.

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Minnesota Tax Help Line: (651) 296-3781 Minnesota Tax Help Line hours of operation are

TTY: Call 711 for Minnesota Relay Monday – Thursday 9:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. Friday 9:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.

FREE tax help for low income persons: Simply dial 2-1-1 or from a cell phone dial 651-291-0211

Updated by: Tony Morris, VLN Bridge Fellow 
 

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Strict Compliance with Service Requirements is Necessary in Eviction Actions

The Minnesota Court of Appeals recently held that strict compliance with the service requirements of Minn. Stat. § 504B.331 was necessary in eviction actions for the court to have personal jurisdiction over defendants.1 The decision overruled a line of cases which held that substantial compliance with the service requirements was sufficient.2 Strict compliance is required even when the defendant has actual knowledge of the eviction proceeding.3 This article explains the service requirements and provides tips for advising tenants in eviction actions.

Minn. Stat. § 504B.331: Eviction Service Requirements

An eviction summons must be personally served on the defendant at least seven days before the hearing by anyone who is not a named party in the action.4 In evictions concerning unoccupied nonresidential property where the defendant cannot be located, service is proper if a copy of the summons is left “in a conspicuous place on the property for not less than a week.”5 In evictions concerning residential property where the defendant cannot be located in the county, the summons may be left “in a conspicuous place on the property for not less than a week” if:

  • ?  service has been attempted at least twice on different days, with at least one of the attempts having been made between the hours of 6:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.; AND
  • ?  the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney has signed and filed with the court an affidavit stating that:

o the defendant cannot be found, or that the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorney believes that the defendant is not in the state; AND

o a copy of the summons has been mailed to the defendant at the defendant’s last known address if any is known to the plaintiff.6

If the plaintiff deviates at all from these requirements, service is not in strict compliance with the statute, and the court must dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction over the

defendant.7 Case law primarily deals with service of residential defendants who cannot be located.8 The following sections explain these requirements in detail.

Key Requirements

  • ?  Before a summons may be mailed and posted, personal service must be attempted on two different days, with one attempt between 6:00 and 10:00 PM.9 These attempts must be made by someone who is not a named plaintiff in the case.10
  • ?  The plaintiff or plaintiff’s attorney must sign and file an affidavit with the court stating that the defendant cannot be located or is believed to have left the state, and that a copy of the summons was mailed to the defendant at the defendant’s last known address.11
  • ?  The plaintiff must mail a copy of the summons even if the defendant is aware of the eviction proceedings, and even if a copy of the summons was posted on the property.12

Practice Tips for Eviction Actions

  • ?  Defendants should carefully examine how they were served and request dismissal if they find any defects. They must request dismissal before or when they address the merits of the action.13 If they file an answer on the merits and then raise a jurisdictional defense, the court may decide that the defendant has consented to the court’s jurisdiction.14
  • ?  When the Court identifies a service defect, the defendants may be given a choice to either: 1 – consent to personal jurisdiction and proceed, or 2 – have the case dismissed for lack of personal jurisdiction. When advising pro se tenants, explain both options and be clear that after dismissing this case the landlord could still file again.
  • ?  Even a dismissed eviction case will remain on the defendant’s record. Defendants whose evictions are dismissed for service defects should orally request expungement during the hearing. If the referee in the eviction action declines to immediately expunge the eviction, the defendant should file a separate action for expungement.
  • ?  Service defects do not prevent parties to an eviction action from reaching a settlement agreement. If the parties decide that reaching a settlement agreement is preferable to litigation, they may reach a settlement agreement and consent to personal jurisdiction.

1Koski v. Johnson, WL 5300888 (Minn.App. September 23, 2013).
2Id. at *8.
3Id. at *10.
4Minn. Stat. § 504B.331(a) (2013).
5Id. at § 504B.331(d)(1)(i). 6 Id. at § 504B.331(d).
6Id. at § 504B.331(d).
7Koski at *11.
8See id.
9Minn. Stat. § 504B.331(d)(1)(ii) (2013).
10Id. at § 504B.331(a).
11Id. at § 504B.331(d)(2).
12Id. at § 504.B331(d)(2)(ii).
13Koski at *10 (Noting that the defendant moved for dismissal based on inadequate service at the same time as when she filed her answer on the merits, and never affirmatively acquiesced to the court’s jurisdiction).
14Id. (Explaining that filing an answer on the merits without raising a jurisdictional defense may be seen as “affirmatively invoking the court’s jurisdiction,” and may waive the defendant’s right to contest jurisdiction).

Submitted by: Tony Morris, VLN Bridge Fellow

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Helping Victims of Domestic Violence Escape Dangerous Rental Housing

Submitted by Chris Hanrahan, VLN Resource Attorney, with the help of Dorinda Wider, Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis Attorney, and Christy Snow-Kaster, Central Minnesota Legal Services Attorney 

It is a difficult choice for a victim of domestic violence to leave an abuser, and when living in rental housing, obligations under the lease can make the decision even more difficult.  The impact of domestic violence extends well beyond physical and emotional harm to the victim.  The Federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and state statutes facilitate the victim’s escape from a violent home.

PROBLEMS FACED BY VICTIMS OF ABUSE

Moving takes the victim out of the dangerous environment, but may result in a struggle to maintain basic human needs.  Moving out of rented housing often involves the victim breaking a lease.  Traditionally, even if the victim vacates the property, there remains a contractual obligation to pay rent.  Failure to pay rent may result in the landlord filing an eviction or other action to recover the unpaid rent.  Joint liability under the lease may mean that the victim will have to face the abuser in court.

Aside from rent obligations, domestic violence can affect the victim’s compliance with other terms in the lease.  Victims who stay with an abuser run the risk of being evicted for the criminal activity and repeated police calls that can be associated with domestic abuse.  Violent struggles in the home can also result in damage to the premises for which the landlord may hold the victim liable.  The victim’s problems can even extend beyond the current tenancy.  If the landlord files an eviction or other action against the victim, the resulting court record may make it difficult for the victim to find safe, affordable housing.

ISSUE SPOTTING

As discussed below, victims of domestic abuse are afforded protections under state and federal laws. However, victims do not always identify themselves as victims. It is important for the housing attorney to spot signs of domestic abuse in order to invoke these protections.

Practice Tip:  Ask questions and fully investigate the grounds of a landlord’s case to determine whether domestic violence is an underlying factor, manifesting as a complaint against the tenant of

  • noise
  • criminal activity
  • police visits
  • property damage
  • unauthorized occupants, or
  • nonpayment of rent.

SOLUTIONS

At both the state and federal level, there is some relief available to help victims of domestic violence escape dangerous rental housing.  VAWA, as amended, applies only to housing involving federal funding, including public housing, the housing choice voucher program, and project-based Section 8, among others.  People living in private housing must rely on state laws or negotiate with their landlords.

VAWA

VAWA’s scope aims to ensure that victims of domestic violence and their families can maintain housing.  VAWA protects victims of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking, who live in federally funded housing or who are applying for federally-funded housing.  The act’s protections extend to immediate family members of the victims as well.

Landlords cannot evict a victim for incidents of actual or threatened domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking unless the landlord can show that allowing the victim to remain would pose an actual and imminent threat to the safety of others.  Also, the landlord cannot evict the victim for criminal activity directly related to such violence.  The landlord can still evict the victim for unrelated criminal activity or lease violations, but cannot hold the victim to a higher standard than others because of the domestic violence.  The victim can raise VAWA’s protections as a defense to an eviction action, but, to avoid the court case altogether, it may be prudent to invoke the protections as soon as the victim has notice of the landlord’s intent to file an eviction action.  The victim can write an explanation to the landlord that addresses the landlord’s grounds for eviction and ties them to the domestic abuse.

Practice Tip:  When your client is a victim or an immediate family member of a victim, search for connections between the domestic violence and the grounds for eviction.  For example, the client may have been arrested and charged with an assault, but upon further investigation, she had been acting in self-defense against the abuser.  Establishing this connection could save the client from eviction.

VAWA gives the victim some options with regard to modifying or terminating the lease.

  1. Bifurcating the Lease: One option is for the landlord to bifurcate the lease and evict the abuser, keeping the victim in the premises.  The victim and remaining family members can attempt to renegotiate the terms of their lease with the landlord in order to stay in the home.  The victim will have to provide proof of the violence to the landlord.  This can be as simple as offering the victim’s certification of the situation, but can also include providing copies of police or court records, restraining orders, or other proof.  The landlord is required to keep such information confidential. Since the abuser is losing a federal interest, due process requirements will apply.
  2. Terminating the Lease: In a tenancy under the Section 8 voucher program, the victim may be able to terminate the lease, retain the voucher, and transfer to a different location.  Section 8 rules limit the ability for tenants to move, with rules against mid-lease moving and limiting the portability of a voucher.  VAWA provides an avenue around these rules, allowing the victim to leave and find safer housing in a location unknown to the abuser.

Practice Tip:  While VAWA offers protections for victims of domestic violence, it also offers legal methods for landlords to evict abusers.  Keep this in mind when advising landlords.

APPLYING FOR FEDERALLY FUNDED HOUSING

In addition to protecting victims living in federally funded housing, VAWA protects victims who are applying for federally funded housing.  A federally funded landlord cannot reject an applicant because he or she is a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking.  To assert this protection, the victim must know the grounds for denial and be able to connect them to the status as a victim.  The victim can provide written notice to the prospective landlord that the denial is because of the incidents of domestic violence.  Again, any proof or explanation about the violence is confidential, and the landlord cannot release the information without the victim’s consent.

Practice Tip:  The connection between the domestic violence and the reason for denial of the application may not be apparent.  Prior evictions, criminal activity, or landlord claims of unpaid rent could be grounds for denial, but they may be the result of prior instances of domestic violence.  Search for a connection and assert it to the landlord.

STATE LAW

Minnesota allows a victim of domestic abuse to terminate the lease and leave the premises, subject to some important qualifications.  Minn. Stat. § 518B.01 Subdiv. 2 (a) defines domestic abuse as when a household member does the following against a family member or household member:

  • causes physical harm, bodily injury or assault;
  • inflicts fear of imminent physical harm, bodily injury, or assault; or
  • commits terroristic threats, criminal sexual conduct, or interference with an emergency call (offenses defined by specific statutes).

This solution under state law is available to victims in all forms of rental housing.  It has strict requirements so, unless the victim has complied, it is not a viable defense to an eviction action or a landlord’s claim of rent.

Under Minn. Stat. § 504B.206, a tenant who is a victim of domestic abuse who fears imminent domestic abuse to the tenant or to the tenant’s minor children may terminate a lease after providing advance written notice to the landlord.

The written notice must state that:

  • the tenant fears imminent domestic abuse from a person named in an order for protection or no contact order;
  • the tenant needs to terminate the tenancy; and
  • the specific date the tenancy will terminate.

The victim must deliver the notice by mail, fax, or in person prior to the termination date, along with a copy of the order for protection or no contact order.  Note that under state law the victim must have an order for protection or no contact order; without one, this statute will not excuse obligations under the lease.  The disclosure is confidential, but the landlord may be able to use it in an eviction action or a claim for unpaid rent or damages.  In addition to providing notice, the victim must pay the full rent for the month encompassing the termination date and one additional month’s rent prior to the termination date.  When fully compliant with the statute, the victim is relieved of obligations under the lease.  Any remaining tenants are still liable under the lease.

Practice Tip:  While exact compliance is required to claim statutory protection, you may be able to negotiate with the landlord, using similar terms that are more attainable for the client.  Be sure to address co-tenant liability, if applicable.

RESOURCES

  • Law Help MN  Factsheets H-22 “Subsidized Housing Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence” and H-23 “Victims of Domestic Violence:  Your Rights in Breaking Your Lease”.
  • ProJusticeMN – CLE materials for “Using VAWA to Get and Keep Subsidized Housing CLE” presented by Christy Snow-Kaster from Central Minnesota Legal Services and Dorinda Wider from Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.
  • Legal Momentum  – “Housing Rights for Survivors of Domestic Violence Living in Public Housing or Using Vouchers”.

General Civil Clinic Resources Index

Submitted by Jessica K. Galant, VLN Clinics VISTA

Below are links to the most frequently used resources at VLN’s general civil legal advice clinics.

CIVIL

  1. Collecting a Judgment in Civil Court
  2. Summary of Exempt Property
  3. Answer to a Complaint (Hot Doc form)

GARNISHMENT

  1. Garnishment Summons
  2. Non-Earnings Disclosure
  3. Exemption Notices
  4. Creditor’s Objection to Exemption Claim
  5. Example Garnishment Return Demand Letter
  6. Garnishment Exemption Form (Hot Doc)

 CONSUMER

  1. Garnishment and Your Rights (Fact Sheet C-04)
  2. Motor Vehicle Transfer
  3. Registering Your Car and Getting Plates
  4. Transferring Title by Seller
  5. Identity Theft Affidavit
  6. Tips for Identity Theft Victims
  7. Credit Report- Request Removal Outdated
  8. Credit Report- Request Removal Inaccurate (en español)
  9. Protecting Income and Property from Levy or Garnishment

EMPLOYMENT

  1. Claims (Fact Sheet E-01)

HOUSING

  1. Getting a Landlord to Make Repairs (Fact Sheet H-11)
  2. Emergency Repair Problems (Fact Sheet H-12)
  3. Condemnations (Fact Sheet H-13)
  4. When Your Landlord Loses the Building (Fact Sheet H-14)
  5. Evictions (Fact Sheet H-26)
  6. Security Deposits (Fact Sheet H-29)
  7. Basics of Mortgage Foreclosure (Fact Sheet C-12)

OTHER RESOURCES

  1. Community Resource Info Sheet
  2. Identity Theft Packet
  3. Criminal Expungement Referrals
  4. Attorney Suggestion and Referral Form

Questions? Suggestions? Contact [@encode@ email=”martha@volunteerlawyersnetwork.org” display=”martha@volunteerlawyersnetwork.org”].