A relatively monumental landlord/tenant case was issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court last Wednesday. The court held that tenants in Minnesota have the right to plead retaliation as an affirmative defense in a breach of lease action. Why is this a big deal?
First, under chapter 504B, retaliation defenses are fairly limited. Essentially, a tenant can plead that a landlord retaliated against them for complaints about repairs and other issues only as an affirmative defense in an eviction action where the landlord has pled that the tenant is holding over. In a breach of lease case, retaliation was only an affirmative defense if the tenant had previously filed a rent escrow or tenant remedies action against his or her landlord, which tends to be a pretty narrow subset of tenants. While breach of lease cases are frequently brought as retaliation for complaints made to a landlord, this case is significant because it will allow a tenant to retain the premises even where the landlord proves its prima facie case.
The other reason this case is significant is because the court used its inherent authority to expand the common law. In his opinion, Justice Lillehaug notes that Minnesota statutes do not afford tenants this ability, but nonetheless concludes that providing this "common-law defense fills a gap that the Legislature left open, perhaps inadvertently."
Of course, we'll have to wait and see how the district courts apply this newly created right. However, it's one more arrow in the quiver for tenants when they're faced with losing their home in an eviction case against a far better resources counter-party. The opinion can be found here.