Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Appeals consolidated for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on the Rent Increase Justification Act, which governed rent increases in manufactured home communities. The Rehoboth Bay Manufactured Home Community (the “Community”) was owned/managed by Hometown Rehoboth Bay, LLC (“Hometown”). The Appellant in Case No. 139, 2020 was Rehoboth Bay Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”), the homeowners’ association. The Appellants in Case No. 296, 2020 were two individual tenants, John Iacona and Robert Weymouth. Hometown sought to raise the rents in both cases: in case No. 296, 2020, rents would be raised an amount in excess of the Consumer Price Index for this area (the “CPI-U”), for the calendar year 2017; in case No. 139, 2020, for the calendar year 2018. Under the Act, proposed rent increases that exceed the CPI-U must be justified by certain factors. Separate arbitrators in both cases found that a Bulkhead Stabilization project performed by Hometown in phases over more than one year was a capital improvement or rehabilitation work, which, along with other capital improvements and other expenses, justified rent increases in excess of the CPI-U in both years. The Appellants claimed the Superior Court erred by affirming the arbitrators’ decisions that the Bulkhead Stabilization project was a “capital improvement or rehabilitation work” and not “ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance.” They also claimed the Superior Court should have ruled that the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the rent increases into each lot’s base rent so as to carry those increases forward into ensuing years. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings on the Bulkhead Stabilization project as a capital improvement or rehabilitation work was correct, however, the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the 2017 and 2018 rent increases into a lot’s base rent for succeeding years after recovering that lot’s full, proportionate share of those costs in those years. Therefore, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehoboth Bay Homeowners' Assoc, et al. v. Hometown Rehoboth Bay" on Justia Law

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Appellant Wild Meadows MHC, LLC challenged the Superior Court’s dismissal of its petition for a writ of prohibition. The Wild Meadows manufactured home community (the “Community”) owned by Appellant, was located in Dover, Delaware. The Community was governed by the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act and its subsection commonly known as the Rent Justification Act (the “Act”). Appellee Intervenor/Respondent Wild Meadows Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) represented these homeowners. Multiple homeowners rejected Wild Meadows’ rent increase and, through the HOA, filed a petition with the Delaware Manufactured Home Relocation Authority (the “Authority”). The Authority appointed Appellee David J. Weidman, Esquire as the arbitrator under the Act. Before the scheduled arbitration, the HOA requested financial information from Wild Meadows relating to the Community’s recent revenue and costs. Wild Meadows refused to provide this information. The HOA moved to compel discovery and a motion for summary judgment with Weidman. In his initial decision, Weidman granted discovery of any financial documents that Wild Meadows intended to rely upon at arbitration, but he denied the HOA’s motion to compel the production of additional financial documents from Wild Meadows. Determining he could compel discover, Weidman ordered Wild Meadows to submit a proposed confidentiality agreement, and ordered the HOA to submit any comments on the draft. After taking both parties' comments into consideration, Weidman issued a final confidentiality agreement, rejecting many of the changes the HOA proposed. Wild Meadows refused to sign the confidentiality agreement and filed the underlying application for a writ of prohibition in the Superior Court. Wild Meadows argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the Superior Court erroneously held that the arbitrator appointed under Delaware’s Rent Justification Act had authority to compel discovery and impose a confidentiality agreement upon parties concerning discovery material. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wild Meadows MHC, LLC v. Weidman" on Justia Law

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This appeal centered on a manufactured housing community owner’s attempt to raise the rent for its homeowner–tenants after installing a new water filtration system and commissioning a report on market rents for comparable manufactured housing communities. After the homeowners petitioned for an arbitration under the Rent Justification Act, the arbitrator concluded that the rent increase was justified. On appeal, however, the Superior Court reversed on the grounds that the community owner did not establish that the installation of the water filtration system “was an increase in its costs” or that the expenditure caused “its original expected return [to] decline[].” The community owner appealed the Superior Court’s decision. The Delaware Supreme Court found after its review of this matter that the Superior Court overruled the arbitrator’s order allowing the rent increase, finding that the community owner “would have had to offer evidence about its original costs and original expected return and how the expenditure . . . altered that relationship.” Because that reasoning grafted onto the Act a requirement that the statute did not contain, the Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court’s judgment and remanded the case for the entry of a judgment affirming the arbitrator’s order. View "Sandhill Acres MHC, LC v. Sandhill Acres Home Owners Association" on Justia Law

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This was a case between the owner of a manufactured homes community, Bon Ayre Land, LLC (Landowner), and an association that represented the affected homeowners, Bon Ayre Community Association (HOA) about what Delaware law required the Landowner to show to increase rent above inflation. Their dispute arose under Chapter 70 of Title 25 of the Delaware Code, commonly known as the "Rent Justification Act." To raise rent by more than inflation, the Act set out three conditions a landowner had to satisfy. One condition required the owner show that the proposed increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the manufactured home community, and justified by one or more factors listed under subsection (c). The one factor at issue here was market rent: that rent which would result from market forces absent an unequal bargaining position between the community owner and the home owners. Among its many arguments, the Landowner argued that the Superior Court erred in giving effect to the word "and," and that the Landowner ought to have been allowed to justify a rent increase based on market rent alone. The Landowner admitted that it failed to present any evidence of its proposed rent increases being directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community. But, the Landowner argued that the Act could not be read sensibly as it was plainly written and that the term "and" in section 7042(a)(2) should have been read as "or." Contrary to the Landowner's argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found nothing "absurd" about the use of "and" in joining section 7042's three conditions. "Consistent with proper principles of interpretation, the Superior Court gave effect to the clear language of the Act and gave it an interpretation that is consistent with the Act's stated purpose." Because the Landowner concededly made no showing that its proposed rental increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community, the Superior Court properly reversed the arbitrator's ruling that the Landowner could raise rents in excess of CPI-U. View "Bon Ayre Land, LLC v. Bon Ayre Community Association" on Justia Law