Briggs Attorneys Win Tenancy At Will Lease Appeal

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February 8, 2018

Briggs and Morgan attorneys Dan Moak, Knapp Fitzsimmons and Cyrus Malek recently won an important reversal of an unlawful-detainer action before the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

In the case, Briggs represented the landlord in a dispute involving a commercial lease for a parking lot. The lease was for an indefinite period of time and, unless the tenant failed to pay rent, the lease could allegedly only be terminated at the discretion of the tenant. When Briggs’ client tried to terminate the lease by providing proper written notice, the tenant refused to vacate the parking lot, contending that it was the only party that could terminate the lease. 

Briggs argued, and the court of appeals agreed, that under Minnesota’s statutory definition of “tenancy at will,” a lease that does not contain a “fixed ending date”—a calendar date upon which the lease ends (or a discrete period of time after which the lease expires)—is a tenancy at will as an operation of law. 

As a result, the court held that the lease was a tenancy at will, which authorized either party—landlord or tenant—to terminate the lease by providing timely written notice.

This case is important for lawyers to keep in mind when drafting a lease. In drafting a lease in Minnesota, lawyers should remember to include a fixed ending date—a calendar date (or term of years) on (or after) which the lease shall terminate.  Failure to do so may convert what the parties believe to be a perpetual lease into a tenancy at will—subject to statutory termination by either party upon providing timely written notice.