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The forcible entry and unlawful detainer statutes are intended to prevent parties from taking the law into their own hands during the eviction process. To further discourage self-help, the legislature has provided treble damages for forcible evictions, Minn. Stat. §§ 557.08 and 557.09, and has provided additional criminal penalties for intentional and unlawful exclusion of a tenant. Minn. Stat. § 504.25.
A restaurant had been cited for health code violations. The owner of the restaurant failed to comply with his landlord’s request to remedy the matters and put up a sign saying the restaurant was closed. As a result, the landlord locked the his tenant out, claiming breach of the lease. The jury found that the tenant did not abandon or surrender the premises and the trial court found landlord's reentry forcible and wrongful as a matter of law. The case was appealed to the Supreme Court of Minnesota.
Did the landlord commit forcible entry?
The Court held the modern rule is that judicial proceedings, including the summary procedures provided in unlawful detainer statutes, are the exclusive remedy by which a landlord may remove a tenant claiming possession. A landlord's reentry in the tenant's absence by picking the locks and locking the tenant out, although accomplished without actual violence, is forcible as a matter of law. Furthermore, Minnesota has historically followed the common-law rule that a landlord may rightfully use self-help to retake leased premises from a tenant in possession without incurring liability for wrongful eviction provided two conditions are met: (1) The landlord is legally entitled to possession, such as where a tenant holds over after the lease term or where a tenant breaches a lease containing a reentry clause; and (2) the landlord's means of reentry are peaceable. Under the common-law rule, a tenant who is evicted by his landlord may recover damages for wrongful eviction where the landlord either had no right to possession or where the means used to remove the tenant were forcible, or both.