Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

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Nine individual tenants prevailed in a jury trial against former owners of an illegally operated building on claims stemming from uninhabitable conditions in the building. Defendants were owners of a two-family residential building that they rented as 12 separate units. The Court of Appeal affirmed and held that the owners forfeited their argument that plaintiffs failed to introduce evidence of net worth; substantial evidence supported the jury's finding that defendants engaged in conduct warranting punitive damages; the punitive damages were not excessive; sufficient evidence supported the jury's award of noneconomic damages; the trial court acted within its discretion in declining to offset damages with the amounts from prior settlements; and defendants failed to show that the jury's verdict was a result of misconduct or unfair prejudice. View "Garcia v. Myllyla" on Justia Law

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Appellants had been renting their San Francisco home to tenants for eight years when the front porch collapsed, causing injury to a tenant. When the tenants sued, appellants sought defense and indemnification from their insurance provider, respondent State Farm, which denied their claim, because appellants’ homeowners’ insurance policy excluded coverage for injuries arising out of an insured’s business pursuits or the rental of their home. Appellants sued State Farm for breach of contract and bad faith denial of their insurance claim. The court of appeal affirmed summary judgment in favor of State Farm. The court rejected an argument that coverage should be restored under an exception for activities that are “ordinarily incident to non-business pursuits.” Appellants sought “to fold into a homeowners policy coverage for the commercial risks attendant to renting their home as a for-profit venture. There is a separate policy tailored to those business risks, a rental dwelling policy, that appellants eschewed in favor of a cheaper policy. Appellants’ argument, if accepted, would upend the allocation of risks and costs associated with commercial or personal activities that insurers rely upon to keep homeowners’ premiums lower than that of business enterprises.” View "Terrell v. State Farm General Ins. Co." on Justia Law

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Federico Garcia, president of Mama Kio’s, entered into an agreement with Total Merchant Services (TMS) for credit-card financial services for the restaurant. Two months after opening Mama Kio’s, Garcia noticed that the bank deposits through TMS were considerably less than expected. TMS later discovered the cause was an improper code in its software that had failed to collect the tips authorized by the customers. The missing tips totaled approximately $14,000. TMS attempted to remedy the error by running the credit cards again for the uncharged tip amounts. However, the customers were charged not only for the uncollected tips but also for the entire charged amounts. More than three thousand customers’ transactions were double and/or triple billed, resulting in more than $400,000 taken from Mama Kio’s customers’ accounts. Mama Kio’s worked with the credit-card companies for more than a month to repair and mitigate the damages. Mama Kio’s was forced to close its restaurant for lack of customers. LAGB, LLC, a commercial landlord, filed suit against Mama Kio’s for breach of its lease contract and sought damages for rent, insurance, taxes, and capital improvements. LAGB also sued the companies that provided credit-card processing services to Mama Kio’s, alleging that the negligence of the credit-card processing companies caused Mama Kio’s to breach its lease with LAGB. Mama Kio’s filed a cross-claim against the credit-card processing companies, alleging misrepresentations and tortious interference with its business. The credit-card processing companies filed motions compelling LAGB and Mama Kio’s to arbitrate. The trial court granted the motions. The Mississippi Supreme Court determined that while the trial court did not err by compelling Mama Kio’s to arbitrate its cross-claims, it did err by compelling LAGB to arbitrate its claims. View "LAGB, LLC v. Total Merchant Services, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2008, Appellants, Gamesa Energy USA, LLC and Gamesa Technology Corporation, Inc. (Gamesa), entered into a commercial lease agreement (the Lease) to rent 35,000 square feet of office space in Philadelphia (the Premises) from Appellees, Ten Penn Center Associates, L.P. and SAP V Ten Penn Center NF G.P. L.L.C. (collectively Ten Penn Center). In May 2011, following Gamesa’s submission of the information required under Article 20.2 of the Lease, Ten Penn Center approved a request to sublease approximately 15,000 square feet, or forty percent of the Premises, to Viridity Energy, Inc. (Viridity) through August of 2018. In April 2012, Gamesa informed Ten Penn Center it would be moving out of the Premises as part of a corporate consolidation, and would continue to pay its monthly rent and attempt to find a sub-lessee for the open space. Viridity remained in the Premises under the terms of its sublease with Gamesa. Gamesa was twice late with the rent after it moved out, but still paid amounts due. In 2012, Gamesa submitted a request to Ten Penn Center for consent to sublease 5,200 square feet of the Premises to Business Services International, LLC (BSI), a business entity comprised of two foreign corporations formed for the particular purpose of subleasing office space through Gamesa. Ten Penn Center responded on June 26th, informing Gamesa it was in default of the Lease for vacating the Premises and, as a result, Ten Penn Center had no obligation to entertain the request to sublease. Ten Penn Center proposed it would grant consent to the BSI sublease if Gamesa forfeited its remaining tenant improvement allowance. Thereafter, negotiations between the parties stalled, and the proposed sublease with BSI never materialized. In 2013, Gamesa filed a complaint against Ten Penn Center, asserting claims of breach of contract, tortious interference in business relationships, and unjust enrichment. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted discretionary review of this commercial landlord and tenant dispute to determine whether the Superior Court erred in holding the tenant was limited to damages for breach of contract and could not also recover the rent it paid following the landlord’s breach, despite prevailing on its claims for both remedies at trial. After careful review, the Supreme Court found no reversible error and affirmed the Superior Court. View "Gamesa Energy USA v. Ten Penn Center, et al" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs leased a home from Pineda, who subsequently retained the attorney-defendants to begin eviction proceedings. According to plaintiffs, there was no rent past due. Pineda and the attorney-defendants filed an unlawful detainer action. The evidence indicated that Pineda had excluded rent payments from the rent ledger and had entered into a sales contract with a third party who wanted the building to be delivered vacant. Defendants continued to prosecute the unlawful detainer for two months. Upon dismissing that action, defendants served plaintiffs with a new three-day notice demanding $9,2503 in unpaid rent. The “October notice” attached a revised rent ledger. Plaintiffs sued for wrongful eviction, alleging that defendants violated an ordinance by demanding excessive rent; that defendants violated Civil Code 1950.5(b)(1) by applying plaintiffs’ security deposit to the payment of rent when they were not in default; breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment; and malicious prosecution. The attorney-defendants filed a special motion to strike the claims (anti-SLAPP, Code Civ. Proc. 425.16), arguing the claims arose from protected activities because they were based on the first unlawful detainer action and that plaintiffs could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits. The court of appeal affirmed denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. The attorney defendants did not satisfy the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute; the allegation that they misused plaintiffs’ security deposit did not arise out of protected activity. The plaintiffs showed minimal merit on their remaining claims. View "Olivares v. Pineda" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from the judgment arising from Yolanda's Inc.'s action against its landlord. In this case, a shopping center lease contains a provision limiting the lessor's liability for breach of the lease to the lessor's interest in the shopping center. Yolanda's is the lessee and it obtained a judgment against its lessor, a limited partnership. The trial court denied Yolanda's motion to amend the judgment to add the general partner of the limited partner lessor as a judgment debtor. The Court of Appeal reversed, holding that, by virtue of a foreclosure, the lease was assigned to the foreclosing lender; the assignment terminated the lessor's rights under the lease; and the termination of the lessor's rights also terminated the rights of the third party beneficiary general partner. View "Gietzen v. Covenant RE Management, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this summary process eviction action, the Supreme Judicial Court vacated the housing court judge's order for use and occupancy payments, holding that a court has statutory and equitable authority to order use and occupancy payments that become due pending trial to be paid into the court, into private escrow accounts, and directly to the landlord. Specifically, the Court held (1) to exercise its authority to order a tenant at sufferance to make interim use and occupancy payments during the pendency of an eviction action the judge, on motion by the landlord, must hold a use and occupancy hearing where the factors and circumstances described in this opinion are considered; and (2) payment into an escrow account maintained by the court or counsel for one of the parties will typically provide adequate protection to the landlord, but a judge may order payments directly to the landlord if certain factors are present. Based on the foregoing, the Court held that the order for use and occupancy payments in this case was deficient in two respects, and the case is remanded for further proceedings. View "Davis v. Comerford" on Justia Law

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Tenants alleged that their former landlord, Lau, violated the owner move-in provisions of the San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Ordinance when he instigated eviction procedures against them. Tenants were awarded more than $600,000 in damages. The trial court entered judgment notwithstanding the verdict, finding no substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict. The court of appeal affirmed. The “good faith,” “without ulterior reason,” and “honest intent” requirements do not trigger a wide-ranging inquiry into the general conduct and motivations of an owner who seeks to recover possession of a unit. These terms serve a specific function: to determine whether the owner harbors a good-faith desire to occupy the apartment as his primary residence on a long-term basis. Lau was under no legal obligation to evict another instead of the Tenants and may not be barred from enjoying the benefits of an apartment he owns and wishes to occupy as his primary residence simply because it had rented more cheaply than another, noncomparable unit in his building. View "Reynolds v. Lau" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part the judgment of the trial court in this landlord-tenant dispute, holding that the parties' rent-to-buy agreement was not a land-sale contract but a rental agreement subject to Indiana's residential landlord-tenant statutes. Plaintiffs and Defendants entered into a purported rent-to-buy contract regarding a house. When Defendants fell behind in their payments, Plaintiffs tried to evict them. The case resulted in a small claims court order allowing Plaintiffs to retake possession. On appeal, Plaintiffs sought damages and attorney's fees, plus costs to clean and re-rent the property. Defendants asserted various counterclaims, including failure to meet landlord obligations under the residential landlord-tenant statutes. The trial court entered judgment for Defendants, concluding, inter alia, that the agreement was unlawful and unenforceable. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed and remanded in part, holding (1) the parties' agreement was subject to the protections afforded by the residential landlord-tenant statutes; and (2) Defendants' claim that Plaintiffs violated Indiana's Deceptive Consumer Sales Act was without merit. View "Rainbow Realty Group, Inc. v. Carter" on Justia Law

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Shalalah Saunders (Tenant) sued her landlord Marcella Smothers (Landlord) who left Tenant's hot water heater inoperable for more than a week. Tenant leased a house from Landlord where Tenant lived with her two children, ages three and seven years old. Both Landlord and Tenant were participants in the Oklahoma Housing and Finance Agency (OHFA) program. Landlord admitted that she was subject to the rules and regulations of the OHFA and its programs with respect to the home leased by Tenant. For a hot bath, Tenant boiled water on the kitchen stove. While carrying the water from the kitchen to the tub, Tenant slipped and fell, causing the hot water to spill on her; she received third degree burns and was hospitalized for a month due to her injuries. Tenant alleged that Landlord owed her a duty of care to provide hot water, Landlord breached that duty, and this breach was the proximate cause of her subsequent injuries. Landlord denied owing any such duty to Tenant, asserting that providing running hot water in a leased home was a mere convenience. Landlord argued that because she had no legal duty to provide hot water, Landlord could not be liable to Tenant in negligence. The district court granted Landlord's motion for summary judgment finding that she owed no duty to Tenant to maintain the hot water heater and further that Landlord's failure to repair was a mere condition and not the proximate cause of Tenant's injuries. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the summary judgment on the ground that Landlord owed no duty to Tenant under the circumstances of this case, but the appellate court did not address any other findings made by the district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court, vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, and held that Landlord owed a general duty of care to Tenant to "maintain the leased premises, including areas under the tenant's exclusive control or use, in a reasonably safe condition." Under these facts, Landlord's general duty of care to Tenant specifically included maintaining a hot water heater in an operable condition. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held it was a fact question for the jury to decide: (1) whether Landlord breached that duty, and if so, (2) whether the landlord's failure to repair was the proximate cause of Tenant's accident and subsequent injuries. View "Saunders v. Smothers" on Justia Law