CMLS Appeal Secures Habitability Defense in Eviction Cases


On May 7th, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the arguments of attorneys at Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS), resulting in a published case correcting an earlier unpublished decision regarding habitability defenses in Minnesota eviction actions. 

The earlier unpublished opinion, Ellis v. Thompson, was the basis of the landlord’s argument that CMLS’s client could not raise a habitability defense to an eviction case unless the tenant followed the procedures for a rent escrow action, including giving written notice of the repair problems 14 days in advance. There is no basis for that argument in the statute, but the same landlord successfully made the argument to the Court of Appeals in 2015’s nearly identical Ellis v. Thompson

According to Elizabeth Sauer, lead attorney on the appeal, “Had the landlord’s argument prevailed this time, the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision in Fritz v. Warthen  (that a covenant in a lease for payment of rent and the statutory covenants of habitability are mutually dependent) would have been severely limited, making it impossible for many of legal aid’s clients to raise habitability defenses in eviction proceedings.”  Monday’s published decision makes clear that a Fritz defense is entirely separate from a Rent Escrow Action, and that Fritz does not contain a written notice requirement.

Staff attorney Neng Vue assisted Sauer on the case. Read the published Court of Appeals decision