Justia Landlord – Tenant Opinion Summaries

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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

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After Tenant moved into her apartment, her apartment and several adjoining units were severely damaged in a fire that originated in Tenant’s clothes dryer. Insurer paid Landlord’s insurance claim and then sued Tenant for negligence and breach of the Apartment Lease Contract. The jury found that Tenant breached the lease agreement and awarded $93,498 in actual damages and attorney’s fees from Insurer. Tenant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, asserting several grounds for avoiding enforcement of the contract. The trial court granted Tenant’s motion and rendered a take-nothing judgment. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the residential-lease provision imposing liability on Tenant for property losses resulting from “any other cause not due to [the landlord’s] negligence or fault” was void and unenforceable because it broadly and unambiguously shifted liability for repairs beyond legislatively authorized bounds. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the court of appeals properly rejected Tenant’s ambiguity defense; but (2) the court of appeals erred in invalidating the lease provision on public-policy grounds. Remanded. View "Philadelphia Indem. Ins. Co. v. White" on Justia Law

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After Tenants moved out of an apartment, Landlord withheld the rental deposit for an automatic carpet-cleaning charge, replacement of a damaged door, and monthly penalties for failure to pay for the door. Tenant sued in small claims court alleging that Landlord improperly failed to return the rental deposit. The magistrate held for Tenant on most issues and awarded damages. The district court upheld some but not all of the magistrate’s decision, concluding (1) Landlord could charge Tenant for the replacement of the exterior door; (2) Tenant was liable to Landlord for rent during two months when the premises was vacant; but (3) Landlord’s automatic deduction from the rental deposit for carpet cleaning violated the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (IURLTA). The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the district court correctly found in favor of Tenant on the issue of cleaning costs; (2) the district court erred in ruling against Tenant on the issue of liability for the door repair and on the claim for damages for failure to permit Tenants from subleasing the apartment; and (3) the district court erred in awarding punitive damages under IURLTA. View "De Stefano v. Apartments Downtown, Inc." on Justia Law

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After Tenants moved out of an apartment, Landlord deducted $904 fomr the rental deposit for an automatic carpet-cleaning charge, replacement of an interior door, and monthly penalties for failure to pay for the door. Tenant filed a small claims action alleging that Landlord unreasonably failed to return the rental deposit and willfully used a rental agreement with known prohibited provisions. A magistrate determined that Landlord violated the Iowa Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (IURLTA) by requiring Tenants to pay for the interior door repair and for the cost of carpet cleaning. The magistrate concluded that Tenant was entitled to punitive damages for bad-faith retention of the rental deposit and an award of two months’ rent for willfully using provisions in its rental agreement that violated the IURLTA. The magistrate awarded Tenant an additional two months’ rent and attorneys’ fees. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed in all respects except on the issue of a knowing use of provisions violating the IURLTA and a bad-faith retention of the rental deposit, holding (1) the record does not contain sufficient evidence to support a knowing violation of the IURLTA, and (2) there was insufficient fact-finding on the issue of bad-faith retention of the rental deposit. Remanded. View "Caruso v. Apartments Downtown, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff initiated an unlawful detainer action against Defendant. The jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff’s favor. Defendant’s attorney then substituted out of the case, and Defendant proceeded with self-representation. Plaintiff was awarded attorney fees. Defendant’s appeals from the underlying judgment and from the attorney fees award were consolidated. In a separately filed action in which Defendant was the plaintiff, the Court of Appeal declared Defendant a vexatious litigant plaintiff. Consequently, the presiding judge in the instant case directed Defendant to obtain permission to continue the Chan v. John consolidated appeal or to file a substitution of attorney before proceeding further. Defendant sought to vacate the prefiling order. The presiding judge declared that the court lacked jurisdiction to vacate the prefiling motion and dismissed Defendant’s consolidated appeals. The Court of Appeal vacated the appellate division’s order, holding that a defendant’s status as a vexatious litigant plaintiff in one matter cannot limit the same defendant’s ability to pursue her appeal in an action she did not initiate as a plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Cal. Civ. Proc. Code 391.7’s prefiling requirements do not apply to a self-represented vexatious litigant’s appeal of a judgment or interlocutory order in an action in which she was the defendant. View "John v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County" on Justia Law

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As part of a joint effort to construct a Zoroastrian worship center, the parties signed a ninety-nine-year lease on a parcel of property owned by Rustam Guiv in the Vienna area of Fairfax County, Virginia. After Rustam Guiv terminated the lease, the Center filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment to reinstate the lease. After removal, the district court granted summary judgment to Rustam Guiv and awarded attorneys’ fees. The court concluded that Rustam Guiv presented sufficient evidence to show complete diversity between the parties, thereby establishing subject matter jurisdiction in federal court. The court also concluded that the undisputed material facts show that The Center breached the lease. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the complaint in its entirety. The court concluded, however, that the attorneys' fee award must be vacated where the district court correctly identified Rustam Guiv as the prevailing party but made no effort to narrow the fee award to its successful claims. Under Virginia law governing contractual fee-shifting provisions, the prevailing party is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees for work performed only on its successful claims. View "Zoroastrian Center v. Rustam Guiv Found." on Justia Law

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Landlord brought a summary process action against Tenant for possession of the premises. Tenant counterclaimed, alleging violations of the security deposit statute and other causes of action. The Housing Court found in favor of Landlord on all but the security deposit claim, ruling that Tenant could properly assert a violation of the security deposit statute as a counterclaim for damages but that a counterclaim on this basis was not a defense to Landlord’s claim for possession. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the Housing Court judgment granting possession to Landlord, holding that a counterclaim or defense on the basis of a violation of the security deposit statute may be asserted as a defense to a landlord’s possession in a summary process action under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 239, 1A. View "Meikle v. Nurse" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, tenants on property owned by Baird Properties, were required to vacate the premises they leased and to remove their belongings when the property was condemned due to a lack of electricity, heating and water. Plaintiffs brought an action under the Residential Landlord and Tenants Act alleging that Baird Properties and Michael Baird purposely sabotaged utility services to the property in order to set events in motion that would force Plaintiffs to vacate the premises. After a trial, the superior court entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the trial justice correctly found that a landlord-tenant relationship existed between Plaintiffs and Baird Properties; (2) the trial justice did not err in determining that Baird tampered with essential services to the property; and (3) the award of attorney’s fees was reasonable. View "Gregoire v. Baird Props., LLC" on Justia Law