Landlord-Tenant Rights: Criminal Property Damage in MN

Minnesota Statute § 609.595 governs the criminal punishments for property damage, specifically when an individual intentionally causes damage to the physical property of another without that person’s consent. The amount of punishment depends on the severity of the damage, and under Minnesota law, the severity of the damage is divided into first degree, second degree, third degree, and fourth degree property damage. A tenant can be held criminally liable for damage to the landlord’s property.

Criminal Property Damage in the First Degree

When someone is found guilty of criminal damage to property in the first degree, he or she is guilty of a felony and could be sentenced to up to five years in prison, or must pay a fine up to $10,000, or both. An individual is guilty of first degree property damage under the following circumstances:

  1. When the damage to the property caused a reasonably foreseeable risk of bodily harm. A reasonably foreseeable risk of bodily harm means that the offender could have foreseen that because of his actions in damaging the property, another individual could possibly get hurt. For example, someone chooses to vandalize the home of another and decides to burn profane words into his yard. Using gasoline and setting the fire is property damage, yet the offender could reasonably foresee that using fire in such a way could potentially cause harm to the people in the house (if the fire got out of control, or if the people tried to put out the fire and were harmed) It is important to note that someone does not necessarily have to be harmed, rather there is a foreseeable likelihood that harm could have occurred.
  2. When the property damaged belongs to a common carrier and the damage impairs the service to the public that that carrier provides. For example, someone who slashes the tires of several cop cars, making them inoperable. The inability to use these cars may impair the service to the public that the police provide.
  3. When the damage reduces the value of the property by more than $1,000 measured by the cost of repair and replacement. For example, when an individual damages a house in such a way that the value of the property is reduced by at least $1,000 because it took $1,000 or more to fix all of the damage.
  4. When the damage reduces the value of the property by more than $500 measured by the cost of repair and replacement and the offender has been convicted within the preceding three years of another offense of first, second, or third degree property damage. For example, an off ender had previously damaged a man’s home because he was Hispanic (a second degree property damage offense, see below), and within three years of that offense he damaged a different person’s car so badly that it cost about $700 to repair, reducing the value of the property by that amount. This property damage to the car would then be considered a first degree offense.

Criminal Property Damage in the Second Degree

When an individual is found guilty of criminal damage to property in the second degree, he or she is guilty of a felony and may face up to one year in prison or must pay a fine of no more than $3,000, or both. Second degree criminal property damage occurs when the motivation to commit such property damage is the property owner’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or national origin. For example, the decision to damage a homeowner’s home (to an extent that would cost more than $500 to repair) solely because the homeowner is African-American. This is primarily reserved for malicious property damage that falls in the category of hate-crimes.

Criminal Property Damage in the Third Degree

Criminal damage to property in the third degree carries with it a punishment of a potential prison sentence of no more than one year or a fine of no more than $3,000, or both. It is a gross misdemeanor crime, not a felony. A third degree offense occurs under the following circumstances:

  1. When the damage to the property reduces the value of the property by more than $500, but no more than $1,000, measured by the cost of repair and replacement. For example, damaging the exterior of a person’s car so badly that repairs cost around $650.
  2. When the damage occurs because of the property owners race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or national origin and the damage reduces the value of the property by no more than $500. The difference between this third degree offense and the second degree offense is the amount of damage done, and whether or not the offense is considered a felony. When any act of property damage is motivated by race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, age, or national origin, it is important to consider the extent of the damage. If the cost of repair and replacement was $500 or less, the offense is a third degree offense. If the damage cost more than $500 to fix, it is a second degree offense and a felony.

Criminal Property Damage in the Fourth Degree

Criminal damage to property in the fourth degree is a misdemeanor offense and includes all intentional damage to property that does not fall in the category of first, second, or third degree property damage.

In addition to criminal damage of property, there is also civil recourse, particularly for landlords. Under Minnesota Statute § 504B.165, the landlord has a cause of action when the tenant has caused willful and malicious destruction of the leased residential rental property. Under this action, the landlord may receive actual damages, costs, reasonable attorney’s fees, and any other equitable relief at the discretion of the court.

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