Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in California Courts of Appeal
Schreiber v. Lee
Schreiber resided in her apartment since the building was built in 1980. She was seriously injured when she fell through a skylight built into the apartment's deck. Lee built and previously owned the three-unit building. At the time of the accident, Lee’s adult children owned the property, which was managed by Golden. Before trial, Schreiber settled with the Lee children for $2.5 million. The trial court denied Lee’s motion for nonsuit on the ground Schreiber’s claims were based on a patent construction defect and barred by the statute of repose. The jury awarded Schreiber damages of over $2.6 million, allocating 12 percent of fault to Schreiber, 54 percent to Lee, 16 percent to Golden, and 18 percent collectively to the Lee children. After reducing the verdict to reflect Schreiber’s percentage of fault, the court offset the entirety of the economic damages by the amount of the settlement attributable to such damages; it denied any credit to Lee and Golden for the noneconomic damages and entered judgment against Lee for $756,000 and against Golden for $224,000. The court of appeal affirmed in all respects except as to the settlement credit, Golden, but not Lee, is entitled to a credit against both economic and noneconomic damages. The court noted the "unusual circumstances," that the Lee children were not only found independently negligent but also bore imputed liability for Golden's negligence. View "Schreiber v. Lee" on Justia Law
Constellation-F, LLC v. World Trading 23, Inc.
This case arose when Constellation filed an unlawful detainer action against World Trading, which Constellation then converted to a damages action against World Trading and World Tech Toys for breach of contract. Constellation sought damages for past-due rent, late fees, interest, failure to maintain and repair, costs incurred by not being able to use the premises, and holdover rent. The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred by ruling that the commercial holdover provision was an unlawful penalty. Rather, the commercial holdover provision was valid and Constellation was entitled to enforce it against World Trading. The court upheld the trial court's finding that World Tech was not jointly and severally liable as an alter ego of World Trade and remanded Constellation's estoppel and agency arguments for the trial court to decide. The court directed the trial court to include the $1,000 sanctions in the final judgment. The court otherwise affirmed the judgment and dismissed World Trading and World Tech's cross-appeal. View "Constellation-F, LLC v. World Trading 23, Inc." on Justia Law
ENA North Beach, Inc. v. 524 Union Street
Hong, the president of ENA, sought to open a restaurant with a license to serve beer and wine in a building owned by 524 Union, which had housed restaurants for many years. After leasing the premises, ENA was unable to open because the San Francisco Planning Department determined that an existing conditional use authorization for the property was no longer effective and a new one could not be granted. ENA sued the lessors, claiming false representations and failure to disclose material facts regarding the problems with the conditional use authorization. A jury awarded ENA compensatory and punitive damages. The court of appeal held that the jury’s verdict on liability, including liability for punitive damages, is supported by substantial evidence. Hong’s testimony was substantial evidence supporting the jury’s verdict. Additional support was provided by evidence of email correspondence around the time Hong entered the lease. The trial court employed an improper procedural mechanism in reducing the amount of the punitive damages award but the jury award was unsupported and Hong effectively stipulated to the reduced amount. View "ENA North Beach, Inc. v. 524 Union Street" on Justia Law
United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region
Under Water Code section 13304, a prior owner of property may be required to participate in the cleanup of wastes discharged from its property that resulted in groundwater contamination if that person “caused or permitted” the discharge. The San Francisco Regional Board named UATC in a cleanup order addressing waste discharges from dry cleaning operations at a shopping center owned by UATC in the 1960s and 1970s. The court of appeal reversed, in favor of the Board. The knowledge component of the statutory element of “permitted” focuses on the landlord’s awareness of a risk of discharge: a prior owner may be named in a section 13304 cleanup order upon a showing the owner knew or should have known that a lessee’s activity created a reasonable possibility of a discharge of wastes into waters of the state that could create or threaten to create a condition of pollution or nuisance. The court rejected UATC’s argument that its liability was discharged in a 2000 bankruptcy reorganization proceeding. Even assuming the Regional Board’s entitlement to a cleanup order was a claim within the meaning of bankruptcy law, it was not discharged in UATC’s bankruptcy proceeding because it did not arise before confirmation of reorganization. View "United Artists Theater Circuit, Inc. v. Regional Water Quality Control Board, San Francisco Region" on Justia Law
Brown v. Upside Gading, LP
Brown, a tenant in low-income, rent-controlled housing owned and managed by Upside, filed suit on behalf of herself and other similarly situated persons, alleging violations of Hayward’s Residential Rent Stabilization and Tenant Protection Ordinance. According to Brown, Upside claimed an exemption to the ordinance based upon misleading information and thereafter imposed upon the often non-English-speaking tenants illegal rent increases, charged excessive late fees, and failed to pay required security deposit interest. Upside representatives approached the tenants individually with pre-written releases from the class action along with pre-written checks as “compensation.” The trial court invalidated those releases (signed by approximately 26 tenant putative class members) and required the parties to confer regarding a corrective notice for the putative class. The court found that the releases contained misleading and one-sided information regarding the underlying lawsuit. The court of appeal dismissed Upside’s appeal of the order as taken from a nonappealable order. The court rejected Upside’s argument that the order was appealable as an injunctive order within the meaning of Code of Civil Procedure section 904.1(a)(6) because it mandates certain actions on their part with respect to the putative class members. Section 904.1 provides no basis for appealing a standard interlocutory order. View "Brown v. Upside Gading, LP" on Justia Law
Garcia v. Myllyla
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
Terrell v. State Farm General Ins. Co.
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
Olivares v. Pineda
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
Gietzen v. Covenant RE Management, Inc.
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
Reynolds v. Lau
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