Articles Posted in California Courts of Appeal

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Landlord filed an unlawful detainer action against tenants. At issue was whether the property fell within the single-family dwelling exemption to the Rent Stabilization Ordinance of the City of Los Angeles. The Court of Appeal held that, regardless of the original design and use of the property, its current configuration (nine bedrooms, two bathrooms, and one kitchen) and current use for occupancy (four individual bedrooms rented to separate households who share the kitchen and bathrooms, but who alone have exclusive access to and use of their rooms) does not qualify for the single–family dwelling exemption from the Ordinance, because it is not a "detached dwelling containing only one dwelling unit" within the meaning of Municipal Code section 12.03. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the appellate division. View "Chun v. Del Cid" on Justia Law

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Sixty-nine current and former residents of mobilehome park Terrace View Mobile Home Estates filed a lawsuit against the park's owners, Terrace View Partners, LP, Thomas Tatum, Jeffrey Kaplan, and management company, Mobile Community Management Company (collectively, defendants). The operative first amended complaint, styled as a class action, included 12 causes of action based on allegations that defendants' failure to maintain the park in "good working order and condition" created a nuisance that, along with unreasonably high space rent increases, made it difficult or impossible for park residents to sell their mobilehomes. After the court denied plaintiffs' motion for class certification, the parties and the court agreed to try the case in phases, with the first phase involving 16 residents living in 10 spaces in Terrace View. A first-phase jury returned a special verdict finding defendants liable and awarded the individual plaintiffs economic and noneconomic damages for: intentional interference with property rights, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, nuisance (based on substantially failing to enforce the park's rules and regulations), breach of contract/breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, and negligence/negligence per se. The jury found defendants were not liable for nuisance based on failing to provide and maintain the park's common facilities and physical improvements in good working order and condition, and were not liable for elder financial abuse against five plaintiffs. After the jury was discharged, the court issued an order on plaintiffs' cause of action alleging defendants violated Business and Professions Code section 17200 et seq., the "unfair competition law" (UCL). The court ruled that a "catch-up" provision in defendants' long-term leases that could greatly increase rent at the end of a lease term was unfair in violation of the UCL. The judgment also reflected the court's rulings at the beginning of trial that certain other provisions in the parties' lease agreements violated California's Mobilehome Residency Law or were otherwise unlawful. Defendants appealed. The Court of Appeal concluded the jury's award of compensatory damages and punitive damages had to be reversed. Although the jury's award of economic damages may have included unspecified amounts that could be upheld on appeal if the special verdict form had segregated them, "it is clear from the record that the vast majority of the economic damages awarded represented reimbursement for overpayment of rent and diminution in value of homes caused by high rent. Because the award of such damages cannot be sustained under any of the theories of liability presented to the jury and it is impossible to sever any properly awarded damages from improperly awarded damages." The Court therefore reversed the entire award of compensatory damages and the attendant awards of punitive damages and attorney fees and costs to plaintiffs. View "Bevis v. Terrace View Partners, LP" on Justia Law

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Pro se plaintiff Elena Dogan appeals after the trial court granted a motion for nonsuit brought by her landlord, defendant Comanche Hills Apartments, Inc., and related individuals and entities at the close of her case. Dogan alleged she was injured when some concrete stairs at the apartment complex broke under her foot, causing her to fall. She claimed defendants were responsible for her injuries based on their control of the premises. Shortly after the filing of her initial complaint, the superior court granted Dogan a fee waiver. The case ultimately went to trial on a negligence theory. Several months before trial, Dogan filed a request to waive additional court fees and specifically asked for a waiver of court reporter fees. The request was denied with the stamped notation, "The Court does not provide Court Reporter Services." As a result, there was no court reporter at trial and no reporter's transcript on appeal. Dogan sought to challenge the trial court's decision to grant a nonsuit in defendants' favor. Defendants argued in response that Dogan could not establish error due to the absence of a reporter's transcript. After initial briefing in this case was complete, the California Supreme Court issued its decision in Jameson v. Desta, 5 Cal.5th 594 (2018), holding that the San Diego Superior Court's policy on providing court reporters "is invalid as applied to plaintiff and other fee waiver recipients, and that an official court reporter, or other valid means to create an official verbatim record for purposes of appeal, must generally be made available to in forma pauperis litigants upon request." As defendants appropriately conceded in their post-Jameson supplemental brief, Jameson applied retroactively to all cases, including this one, not yet final on appeal. Because there was no way to now provide a reporter for a trial that has already occurred, the Court of Appeal determined it had no choice but to reverse and remand for a new trial at which an official court reporter would be furnished. View "Dogan v. Comanche Hills Apartments" on Justia Law

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Tenant filed suit against landlord and others after landlord rejected tenant's offer to purchase the building tenant rented for his audio recording business. Landlord ultimately sold the building to a third party because the offer was for considerably more money. The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the action and held that a right of first refusal is not an essential term that carries forward into a holdover tenancy unless the parties so indicate. In this case, there was no such indication and tenant's alternative theories for enforcing the right to first refusal lacked merit. View "Smyth v. Berman" on Justia Law

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Lloyd Copenbarger, as Trustee of the Hazel I. Maag Trust (the Maag Trust), sued Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, Inc. (MCWE) for declaratory relief and breach of a settlement agreement made to resolve various disputes, including an unlawful detainer action. MCWE was the lessee of a 50-year ground lease (the Ground Lease) of real property (the Property) in Newport Beach. The Property was improved with an office building and marina (the Improvements). The Ground Lease was set to terminate on December 1, 2018. In 2004, MCWE subleased the Property and sold all of the Improvements to NHOM (the Sublease). Starting in 2009, NHOM experienced cash flow problems due to “a shortage of rents.” In June 2011, MCWE commenced an unlawful detainer action against NHOM based on allegations NHOM failed to maintain and undertake required repairs to the Improvements. Six months later, the Maag Trust intervened in the UD Action as a party defendant under the theory that if NHOM were evicted and the Sublease terminated, then the Maag Trust’s security interest created by the Maag Deed of Trust would be destroyed. In August 2012, MCWE, Plaza del Sol, and the Maag Trust entered into a settlement agreement (the Settlement Agreement). The Maag Trust alleged MCWE breached the settlement agreement by failing to dismiss with prejudice the unlawful detainer action and sought, as damages, attorney fees incurred in that action from the date of the settlement agreement to the date on which MCWE did dismiss the action. Following a bench trial, the trial court found MCWE had breached the settlement agreement by not timely dismissing with prejudice the unlawful detainer action. As damages, the court awarded the Maag Trust attorney fees it claimed to have incurred during the relevant time period. On appeal, MCWE did not challenge the finding that its failure to dismiss the unlawful detainer action constituted a breach of the settlement agreement. Instead, MCWE made a number of arguments challenging the damages awarded. After review, the Court of Appeal reversed the judgment against MCWE because there was a wholesale failure of proof of the amount of damages on the part of the Maag Trust. Therefore, the Court reversed with directions to enter judgment in favor of MCWE on the Maag Trust’s complaint. View "Copenbarger v. Morris Cerullo World Evangelism, Inc." on Justia Law

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Coyne's San Francisco property includes a building with three apartments and a free-standing, three-bedroom cottage. De Leo, age 81, had resided in the cottage since 1989. In 2012, Coyne decided to move into the cottage. Martin asked De Leo to move to the lower unit for a reduced rent. De Leo initially agreed. Martin paid that tenant $10,000 to vacate and painted the lower unit. De Leo’s son expressed concerns that no caregiver would have a place to stay if De Leo moved to the lower unit. Martin explained that he could invoke the Ellis Act to evict the tenants. De Leo refused to vacate. Martin transferred ownership to trusts, executed a tenancy in common agreement, and filed a “Notice of Intent to Withdraw Residential Units from the Rental Market” with the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, listing himself as the occupant of the upper unit, although he did not then reside there. Esclamado, a Coyne employee, was listed as the lower unit occupant, but no rent was listed; lower and upper units the as “owner-occupied.” After extensions, the Board recorded notices that the units would be withdrawn from the rental market (Gov. Code, 7060.2). Ultimately, Coyne obtained a judgment of possession. The court of appeal reversed. The trial court abused its discretion excluding De Leo’s evidence on the key factual issue of whether Martin had a bona fide intent to withdraw the Property from the residential rental market--evidence that Martin sold Esclamado a sham ownership interest. View "Coyne v. De Leo" on Justia Law

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Winslett sued her former landlord after he failed to make repairs to her apartment and filed an unlawful detainer action against her. Landlord responded with an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) motion to strike the claims for retaliation and retaliatory eviction (Civil Code section 1942.5) and under the Oakland Just Cause For Eviction Ordinance. The court granted the motion, awarding Landlord attorney fees and costs. The court of appeal reversed. Because the section 1942.5 scheme of retaliatory eviction remedies would be rendered significantly inoperative if the litigation privilege were to apply, section 1942.5, subdivisions (d) and (h) create an exception to that privilege. Winslett’s “Just Cause Ordinance” claim was not rooted in the unlawful detainer action, in the notice to quit, or in any other protected free speech or petitioning activity, but rather lies in the broader circumstances surrounding the eviction: the alleged pressure tactics designed to force Winslett to abandon her apartment and cease making complaints about tenantability. Because that claim does not arise out of protected activity, there were no grounds for striking it under the anti-SLAPP statute. View "Winslett v. 1811 27th Avenue, LLC" on Justia Law

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A landlord can not be held liable to a commercial tenant for damage to the tenant's property resulting from an alleged sewer backup when the tenant (who had a month-to-month tenancy in the premises after her lease expired) had stopped paying rent, had been served (but failed to comply) with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit, and had been named in an unlawful detainer action filed before the alleged sewer backup occurred. In this case, the month-to-month tenancy was terminated by the tenant's failure to pay rent coupled with the landlord's filing of the wrongful detainer action. Therefore, as of the filing of the wrongful detainer action, the Court of Appeal held that the tenant was a tenant at sufferance who had no lawful right to possession of the premises. The court held that the landlord was not liable for damage to the tenant's property left on the premises when that damage was not caused by the landlord's intentional act or negligence. The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court. View "Multani v. Knight" on Justia Law

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Reilly and two daughters moved into a Novato apartment in 1998. They received Section 8 housing assistance payments. In 2004 one daughter moved out, but Reilly failed to inform the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) of her departure. Five years later, when Reilly told MHA that this daughter no longer lived with her, MHA informed Reilly that her failure to report the departure earlier was a violation of program rules and that she had to pay damages of $16,011. Reilly and MHA agreed to monthly payments; they revised the plan several times, eventually reducing Reilly’s obligation to $150 per month. Reilly missed multiple payments. Reilly requested that MHA recalculate her rent and exclude her income from the In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) program, which compensates those who care for aged, blind, or disabled individuals incapable of caring for themselves. Reilly’s daughter suffers from a severe developmental disability. MHA proposed termination of her Section 8 voucher. Reilly argued that MHA improperly included her IHSS payments as income. A hearing officer upheld MHA’s decision to terminate Reilly’s housing voucher. The trial court and court of appeal affirmed. The IHSS money Reilly receives is “income” within the meaning of HUD regulations; MHA should include it in calculating Reilly’s housing assistance payment. View "Reilly v. Marin Housing Authority" on Justia Law

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In 1998 San Francisco outlawed discrimination against tenants who pay a portion of their rent with a Section 8, or similar, housing voucher by amending San Francisco’s existing housing discrimination ordinance to outlaw discrimination based on a person’s “source of income,” a term defined broadly to include government rent subsidies. In 1999, the California Legislature expanded the state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) to prohibit discrimination based on a tenant’s “source of income,” but defined the term narrowly, so that it does not reach government rent subsidies (Gov. Code 12955(a)). FEHA does not prevent a landlord from declining to take Section 8 tenants. The trial court and court of appeal held that the ordinance is not preempted by FEHA. The purpose of FEHA is “to provide effective remedies” for the 14 categories of “discriminatory practice[]” that FEHA itself addresses. FEHA does not reach the discriminatory practice of a landlord refusing to rent to a participant in the Section 8 program. San Francisco’s ordinance prohibiting such conduct has, by definition, a different purpose from FEHA.There is no inherent contradiction between FEHA and the San Francisco ordinance. View "City and County of San Francisco v. Post" on Justia Law