Justia Landlord – Tenant Opinion Summaries

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This appeal arose from a premises liability action brought against Walter Amundson, the owner of a piece of property in Kuna (the “Property”), by David Stiles, a social guest of one of Walter’s tenants. The district court dismissed the case on summary judgment, reasoning that: (1) Amundson had neither a general duty of care nor a duty to warn with respect to Stiles; and (2) although Amundson could be liable for any injury resulting from the negligent repair of the Property, Amundson's repair was not the proximate cause of Stiles’ injury. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Stiles v. Amundson" on Justia Law

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Roland Riemers twice sued Heidee Hill, her husband, Jason Hill, and her three children, Hannah Hill, Ashley Roesler, and Hailey Marie Hill, for unpaid rent, late fees, property damage, and punitive damages arising out of a lease agreement signed by Heidee Hill for a house in Emerado. Only Heidee Hill signed the lease agreement, but Heidee and Jason Hill were both identified as applicants on the agreement and the three children were listed as "others who will be sharing the house." The Hill family moved to dismiss Riemers' complaint for failure to state a claim and sought attorney fees. They asserted the property was uninhabitable and had been condemned by the Grand Forks Public Health Department in July 2013. They also counterclaimed for abuse of process, alleging Riemers' claims for unpaid rent and property damage were "so outrageous and ridiculous" to rise to the level of abuse of process. They claimed that despite the property being condemned in July 2013, Riemers sued them for structural damage to the house that was clearly Riemers' responsibility and Riemers had an ulterior motive to harass and embarrass them with a lawsuit void of any factual or legal basis. Riemers appealed the judgment awarding him $8,245.87 from Heidee Hill for unpaid rent and property damage and ordering him to pay Ashley Roesler $10,164 for abuse of process. After review, the Supreme Court concluded the district court erred in granting summary judgment on the liability issue of the abuse-of-process claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed in part and reversed the summary judgment on that claim and remanded for further proceedings. View "Riemers v. Hill" on Justia Law

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In 2013, Plaintiff, a participant in the Section 8 Federal Housing Choice Voucher Program, listed among her assets a trust that had been established in 2010 to hold Plaintiff's proceeds from a series of tort settlements. The Brookline Housing Authority (BHA) subsequently determined that Plaintiff was “over-income” for continued participation in the Program, as locally administered by the BHA. Plaintiff appealed, requesting that the BHA exclude at least some of these trust disbursements from its income calculation in reasonable accommodation of her disability. The BHA reaffirmed its determination. Thereafter, Plaintiff sued, alleging that the BHA had violated state and federal law by incorrectly calculating her income under the relevant federal regulations and by engaging in disability-based discrimination. The district court ruled in favor of BHA. The First Circuit (1) reversed the district court’s ruling on Plaintiff’s 42 U.S.C. 1983 claim brought under the Housing Act, holding that the BHA misconstrued federal regulations in calculating Plaintiff’s income; (2) vacated the district court’s ruling on Plaintiff’s state and federal discrimination claims and remanded with instructions to dismiss those claims as moot; and (3) affirmed the district court’s denial of Plaintiff’s remaining claims. Remanded. View "DeCambre v. Brookline Housing Auth." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether, and under what circumstances, a court may decline on equitable grounds to enforce a provision in a long-term ground lease giving the lessor the right to terminate the lease and reenter the premises in the event of a default. Plaintiff Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC (MBP) sued defendant Mallets Bay Homeowner’s Association seeking to void a multi-year ground lease for property abutting Lake Champlain on account of alleged breaches of the covenants in that agreement. After a bench trial, the trial court concluded that the Association had violated its obligations under the lease by failing to reasonably maintain the embankments abutting Lake Champlain to protect them from erosion. However, the court declined to enforce the forfeiture clause in the lease against the Association, and awarded MBP damages to enable it to undertake the necessary restoration and bank protection. The Association appealed the ruling that it breached the lease, and MBP appealed the trial court’s award of damages in lieu of forfeiture. After review of the particular facts of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the Association breached the lease, but reversed its refusals to declare termination of the lease and to issue a writ of possession to MBP. The case was remanded for reconsideration of MBP’s remedy. View "Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC v. Mallets Bay Homeowner's Assn." on Justia Law

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After defendant bought the commercial building housing plaintiffs‘ rug cleaning business, disputes developed. The tenants complained that landlords behavior interfered with their business operations and amounted to a campaign of harassment and retaliation. The tenant obtained a preliminary injunction, enjoining landlord‘s construction activities exceeding a stated decibel level during business hours. Three consumer reviews criticizing tenant’s business subsequently appeared on the Internet site Yelp.com posted from different online aliases. Tenant suspected landlord was responsible and amended the complaint to allege defamation. Landlord successfully moved in limine to exclude the evidence related to the Yelp reviews on hearsay and authenticity grounds. The trial court later granted landlord a directed verdict on the defamation cause of action. A jury found that, although landlord had breached the lease agreement, no damages resulted. The trial court deemed landlord the prevailing party and granted his request for attorney‘s fees. The court of appeal reversed, holding that the exclusion of the Yelp evidence and the resulting disposition of the defamation cause of action was error and it is not clear that the outcome on the contract-based causes of action would have remained unaffected by the presentation of evidence on the alleged defamation. View "Kinda v. Carpenter" on Justia Law

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Tri-City Associates, LP owned and operated the Northgate Shopping Center in Rapid City. It entered into a written lease agreement with Belmont, Inc. in April 2006 for unfinished commercial space. The unfinished commercial space required substantial initial construction work before the lease was to begin on August 1, 2006. The parties experienced considerable difficulties in completing the terms of the lease. Tri-City proposed to move the start date of the lease to January 15, 2007. Belmont did not respond to the requested modification. Ultimately, Tri- City did not deliver the premises to Belmont on August 1, 2006, in the condition required under the lease and did not complete its allocated initial construction work. After Belmont did not pay rent for the first few months of the lease, Tri-City served Belmont with a notice of default under the lease. A month later, Tri-City served Belmont with a notice to quit and vacate and, in April 2007, sued to evict Belmont. Belmont answered and asserted that Tri-City materially breached the lease, which Belmont asserted relieved it of its duty to pay rent. Then, in October 2007, Belmont counterclaimed for damages for Tri-City’s failure to perform under the terms of the lease. Tri-City responded to Belmont’s counterclaim that Belmont agreed to accept the premises “as is.” Tri-City also argued that Belmont failed to provide Tri-City with written notice of Tri-City’s alleged breach and did not give Tri-City an opportunity to cure as required by the notice-and-cure provision in the lease. In this second appeal, Tri-City argued that the circuit court erred when it entered a judgment in favor of Belmont, Inc. In "Tri-City I," the South Dakota Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for the circuit court to enter “findings of fact and conclusions of law on the effect of Belmont’s failure to give notice of breach and an opportunity to cure.” On remand, the circuit court entered supplemental findings of fact and conclusions of law, interpreting the notice-and-cure provision of the lease at issue to allow for substantial compliance and found that Belmont substantially complied. It also found that Tri-City had actual notice of its material breaches and an opportunity to cure. Alternatively, the court concluded that, by bringing suit against Belmont, Tri-City repudiated any intention to perform its obligation under the lease and made futile the requirement that Belmont strictly comply with the notice-and-cure provision. It then entered a judgment in favor of Belmont. Finding no reversible error in the trial court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Tri-City Associates, LP v. Belmont, Inc." on Justia Law

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Cheetah Properties 1, LLC and Panther Pressure Testers, Inc. entered into a commercial lease agreement with an initial term that commenced on April 15, 2014, and ended on December 31, 2014. On January 19, 2015, Cheetah brought an eviction action to recover possession of the property. In the complaint, Cheetah sought damages for: (1) delinquent charges for late payment of rent owed up to December 31, 2014; (2) for Panther's willful holdover "in an amount double the yearly value of the Premises for the time of Defendant[']s withholding" under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28; and (3) for any physical damage to the property caused by Panther vacating the premises. Cheetah also sought an award of reasonable attorneys' fees under the lease. Panther vacated the property by January 31, 2015. The district court returned lawful possession of the property to Cheetah and awarded it $22,000 for January 2015 rent and $8,200 for delinquent rent and fees under the lease. The district court declined to impose double damages under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28 based on its finding that Panther's holding over was not willful. After the district court entered its order for judgment, Cheetah moved for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees under the lease. The district court denied Cheetah's request for fees. Cheetah appealed the district court's judgment and the order denying an award of reasonable attorneys' fees. The Supreme Court affirmed the district court's judgment concluding Cheetah was not entitled to an award of double damages under N.D.C.C. 32-03-28, but reversed the denial of attorneys' fees. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Cheetah Properties 1, LLC v. Panther Pressure Testers, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Texas Optometry Act prohibits commercial retailers of ophthalmic goods from attempting to control the practice of optometry; authorizes the Optometry Board and the Attorney General to sue a violator for a civil penalty; and provides that “[a] person injured as a result of a violation . . . is entitled to the remedies. In 1992, Wal-Mart opened “Vision Centers” in its Texas retail stores, selling ophthalmic goods. Wal-Mart leased office space to optometrists. A typical lease required the optometrist to keep the office open at least 45 hours per week or pay liquidated damages. In 1995, the Board advised Wal-Mart that the requirement violated the Act. Wal-Mart dropped the requirement and changed its lease form, allowing the optometrist to insert hours of operation. In 1998, the Board opined that any commercial lease referencing an optometrist’s hours violated the Act; in 2003, the Board notified Wal-Mart that it violated the Act by informing optometrists that customers were requesting longer hours. Optometrists sued, alleging that during lease negotiations, Wal-Mart indicated what hours they should include in the lease and that they were pressured to work longer hours. They did not claim actual harm. A jury awarded civil penalties and attorney fees. The Fifth Circuit certified the question of whether such civil penalties, when sought by a private person, are exemplary damages limited by the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code Chapter 41. The Texas Supreme Court responded in the affirmative, noting that “the certified questions assume, perhaps incorrectly, that the Act authorizes recovery of civil penalties by a private person, rather than only by the Board or the Attorney General.” View "Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Forte" on Justia Law

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This was an interlocutory appeal involving a premises-liability case. Cynthia Adams, one of the defendants in the case, filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court denied. Plaintiff Anthony Hughes brought a negligence claim against multiple parties: BKB, LLC d/b/a the Electric Cowboy; Jonathan Self, manager of the Electric Cowboy; and Adams, the owner of the property on which Electric Cowboy operates. Hughes alleged that he was “attacked and assaulted by a third party assailant” at the Electric Cowboy in 2011. Hughes claimed that all the defendants “had either actual or constructive knowledge of the third party’s violent nature or actual or constructive knowledge that an atmosphere of violence existed on the premises of the Electric Cowboy.” Adams was an absentee landlord, who did not physically occupy, possess, or exercise control over the Electric Cowboy and/or the leased premises prior to or at the time of the incident in question; Adams did not frequent or visit the Electric Cowboy; Adams had no control or involvement in the operations or management of the Electric Cowboy; she was never employed by the Electric Cowboy; she did not supervise the Electric Cowboy, and she did not have the right to supervise the Electric Cowboy. Adams petitioned the Supreme Court for interlocutory appeal when her motion for summary judgment was denied. A panel of the Supreme Court issued an order granting the petition and staying the trial court proceedings. Finding that Adams was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, the Court reversed the trial court’s denial of summary judgment and rendered judgment in favor of Adams. View "Adams v. Hughes" on Justia Law

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The apartment building, constructed in 1912, was used first as a factory, before it was abandoned. Goldtex purchased the the building in 2010 and hired KlingStubbins to design a plan to convert the entire building into rental apartment units and retail space. The building was almost gutted for conversion into a residential building with 163 apartment units and ground floor retail space that began accepting tenants in 2013. A housing advocacy group filed suit alleging violation of the design and accessibility requirements of the Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3604(f)(3)(C). The district court dismissed, citing HUD’s interpretation of the provision—which exempts converted buildings from the accessibility requirements if they were constructed prior to March 13, 1991. The Third Circuit affirmed, finding the agency’s interpretation entitled to deference. The interpretations are reasonable and reflect a legitimate policy choice by the agency in administering an ambiguous statute. View "Fair Hous. Rights Ctr. v. Post Goldtex GP LLC" on Justia Law