Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Government & Administrative Law
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Plaintiffs were tenants at Arbor Court, a Houston apartment complex that received subsidies from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”). After flooding that occurred during Hurricane Harvey, Arbor Court’s owner failed to maintain the property in decent, safe, and sanitary condition. Accordingly, HUD approved a transfer of the complex’s subsidy to a different property, offering Arbor Court tenants a choice between moving at no cost to the new property or receiving housing vouchers that they could use at new housing of their choice. After choosing the latter option, Plaintiffs sued HUD, seeking relocation assistance under the Uniform Relocation Act (“URA”). The district court dismissed the complaint.   The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The court held that Plaintiffs are not entitled to relocation assistance under the URA. The court explained, as required by statute, Plaintiffs have not pled that they moved from Arbor Court “as a direct result of a written notice of intent to acquire or the acquisition of such real property [i.e. Arbor Court] in whole or in part for a program or project undertaken by a Federal agency or with Federal financial assistance.” Plaintiffs argued that under the applicable Department of Transportation (“DOT”) regulations, the Section 8(bb) subsidy transfer from Arbor Court to Cullen Park qualifies as “such other displacing activity.” However, this regulation merely defines the phrase “program or project.” It does not prescribe any “displacing activit[ies]” that cause one to become a “displaced person” under the URA. View "Jackson v. HUD" on Justia Law

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Appellants Keith Aaron and Weston Street Trust appealed a trial court’s summary judgment upholding a Notice of Violation (NOV) concerning the Trust’s property on grounds it was occupied by more than four unrelated adults in violation of applicable zoning restrictions. The property at issue was an individual unit (unit #1) within a three-unit building (the property) located in the City of Burlington’s Residential Low Density Zoning District (RL District). In the context of cross motions for summary judgment, the Trust did not deny that more than four unrelated adults lived in unit #1, and did not contest that the applicable zoning ordinance prohibited such a use in the RL District. The Trust argued that the violation was unenforceable because it first occurred more than fifteen years ago or, in the alternative, that this enforcement action was barred by claim preclusion. The Environmental Division granted summary judgment to the City, upholding the NOV. The Vermont Supreme Court concluded the City was not precluded from enforcing the zoning violation on account of 24 V.S.A. 4454 because a valid municipal ordinance established that if an unlawful use is discontinued for more than sixty days, resumption of the unlawful use constituted a new violation, and the Supreme Court rejected the Trust’s alternate argument that its use was a lawful preexisting nonconforming use based on the preclusive effect of permitting proceedings in 1972 and 1994. View "In re 15-17 Weston Street NOV" on Justia Law

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In May 2020, at the height of the pandemic, New York City amended its Residential and Non-Residential Harassment Laws, to prohibit “threatening” tenants based on their “status as a person or business impacted by COVID-19, or . . . receipt of a rent concession or forbearance for any rent owed during the COVID-19 period,” and added the “Guaranty Law,” which renders permanently unenforceable personal liability guarantees of commercial lease obligations for businesses that were required to cease or limit operations pursuant to a government order. For rent arrears arising during March 7, 2020-June 30, 2021, the Guaranty Law extinguishes a landlord’s ability to enforce a personal guaranty.In a suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983, the plaintiffs alleged that the Harassment Amendments violated the Free Speech and Due Process Clauses of the U.S. and New York Constitutions by impermissibly restricting commercial speech in the ordinary collection of rents and by failing to provide fair notice of what constitutes threatening conduct. Plaintiffs further alleged that the Guaranty Law violated the Contracts Clause, which prohibits “State . . . Law[s] impairing the Obligation of Contracts.” The district court dismissed the suit.The Second Circuit affirmed in part, agreeing that the plaintiffs failed to allege plausible free speech and due process claims. The court reinstated the challenge to the Guaranty Law. The Guaranty Law significantly impairs personal guaranty agreements; there are at least five serious concerns about that law being a reasonable and appropriate means to pursue the professed public purpose. View "Melendez v. City of New York" on Justia Law

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Defendant Town of Windham (Town) appealed a superior court order denying its motion to dismiss the tax abatement appeal of plaintiff Shaw’s Supermarkets, Inc. (Shaw’s), for lack of standing. The Town also appealed the superior court's order granting Shaw’s requested tax abatement. The owner of the property at issue leased 1.5 acres of a 34.21-acre parcel in Windham established as Current Use. The lease, in relevant part, required Shaw’s to pay the Owner its pro rata share of the real estate taxes assessed on the entire parcel, and the Owner was required to pay the taxes to the Town. If the Owner received a tax abatement, Shaw’s was entitled to its pro rata share of the abatement. In 2017, Shaw’s was directed by the Owner to pay the property taxes directly to the Town, and it did. Shaw’s unsuccessfully applied to the Town’s selectboard for a tax abatement and subsequently appealed to the superior court. The Town moved to dismiss, arguing that Shaw’s lacked standing to request a tax abatement on property it did not own. Finding the superior court did not err in finding Shaw's had standing to seek the abatement, or err in granting the abatement, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the superior court's orders. View "Shaw's Supermarkets, Inc. v. Town of Windham" on Justia Law

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Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District supplies water to about 300 households, including the public housing tenants of a Pinal County complex. Property owners like Pinal County are responsible for paying any past tenant’s delinquent water accounts. Pinal County acknowledged that responsibility but consistently refused to pay, contending it was immune to that policy based on its status as a public municipality. In response, the District imposed a new policy that increased to $180 the refundable security deposit required of new public housing customers before the District would provide water services. New non-public housing customers were subject to a $55 deposit.The Ninth Circuit rejected a challenge to the policy under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), 42 U.S.C. 3604 and 3617, which bars discriminatory housing policies and practices, including those that cause a disparate impact according to certain protected characteristics or traits—race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. Although the District’s public housing customers are disproportionately African American, Native American, and single mothers, the District established by undisputed evidence that the policy served in a significant way its legitimate business interests; the plaintiffs failed to establish a triable issue of fact that there existed an equally effective, but less discriminatory, alternative. There was insufficient evidence that discriminatory animus was a motivating factor behind the District’s decision to implement its policy. View "Southwest Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Maricopa Domestic Water Improvement District" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff H.C. Equities, L.P. asserted contract claims against its commercial tenant, the County of Union, after the County began to withhold rent payments in response to a dispute about the condition of the leased commercial buildings. During negotiations to settle the contract matter, the County directed its co-defendant, the Union County Improvement Authority (Authority), to assess the County’s real estate needs. H.C. Equities obtained a copy of a consultant’s report prepared as part of that assessment and objected to statements in the report about the condition of the buildings that it had leased to the County. H.C. Equities filed suit against the County and the Authority, asserting conspiracy claims against both defendants and trade libel and defamation claims against the Authority. Plaintiff did not apply for permission to file a late tort claims notice until more than eight months after the expiration of the one-year period allowed under N.J.S.A. 59:8-9 for the filing of such motions. The trial court held that H.C. Equities had failed to file the notices of claim that the Tort Claims Act required and dismissed its tort claims. H.C. Equities appealed, and the Appellate Division reversed the trial court. Relying on a combination of excerpts from three letters written by H.C. Equities’ counsel, the Appellate Division found that H.C. Equities substantially complied with the Act’s notice of claim provisions. The New Jersey Supreme Court disagreed that a finding of substantial compliance with the Tort Claims Act could be premised on comments made by plaintiff’s counsel in three different letters sent to lawyers representing the defendant public entities. The Supreme Court did not find that H.C. Equities’ letters, individually or collectively, communicated the core information that a claimant had to provide to a public entity in advance of filing a tort claim. The Appellate Division’s determination was reversed, and the matter remanded to the trial court. View "H.C. Equities, LP v. County of Union" on Justia Law

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The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Pub. L. No. 116-136, 134 Stat. 281 (2020) (CARES Act), among other things, imposed a 120-day moratorium on evictions for rental properties receiving federal assistance. The CDC then issued a temporary eviction moratorium on September 4, 2020, that suspended the execution of eviction orders for nonpayment of rent. Before the CDC's order was originally set to expire on December 31, 2020, Congress enacted the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended the CDC's order through January 31, 2021. The CDC's order was then extended again through March 31, 2021, and again through June 30, 2021, and again through July 31, 2021.Plaintiffs, several landlords seeking to evict their tenants for nonpayment of rent and a trade association for owners and managers of rental housing, filed suit alleging that the CDC's orders exceeds its statutory and regulatory authority, is arbitrary and capricious, and violates their constitutional right to access the courts.The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction based on plaintiffs' failure to show an irreparable injury. The court declined to find that the CDC's order is unconstitutional, and failed to see how the temporary inability to reclaim rental properties constitutes an irreparable harm. Furthermore, the court explained that, without any information about a tenant’s financial or employment picture, the court has no way to evaluate whether she will ever be able to repay her landlord; to decide otherwise based solely on the CDC declaration would be to conclude that no one who signed the declaration is likely to repay their debts after the moratorium expires. Given the lack of evidence and the availability of substantial collection tools, the court could not conclude that the landlords have met their burden of showing that an irreparable injury is likely. View "Brown v. Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services" on Justia Law

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The County of Sacramento (County) filed an action to abate building and housing code violations at two properties owned or managed by Raj Singh and Kiran Rawat, individually and as trustee of the SitaRam Living Trust dated 2007 and the Sita Ram Trust. The trial court appointed a receiver under Health and Safety Code section 17980.7 to take control of and rehabilitate the properties upon the County’s motion. Singh appealed pro se the trial court’s order approving the receiver’s final account and report and discharging the receiver. The Court of Appeal addressed Singh's claims "as best as [the Court could] discern them." After careful consideration of Singh's claims, the Court found no reversible error and affirmed the trial court. View "County of Sacramento v. Rawat" on Justia Law

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Webb, a disabled veteran, was referred to U.S. Vets, which administered the Supportive Housing Program, for participants to live with a roommate in multiple-occupancy units, and Shelter Plus Care, for chronically homeless veterans with disabilities to live in one-bedroom units without roommates or two-bedroom units with a roommate. Webb alleges that he qualified for a one-bedroom unit through Shelter Plus. Vets allegedly told him that no one-bedroom unit was available and placed him temporarily in a multiple-occupancy unit. . A few months later, Vets placed a female applicant in its Shelter Plus Care program although she had indicated on her application that she was not chronically homeless. Webb alleges that she was “given preferential treatment because she is a female” in violation of the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. 3604(a).The district court dismissed Webb's suit, concluding that because Webb had paid no rent, he had “no legally protected interest.” The D.C. Circuit reversed. Under the Act, it is unlawful to “make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” Any person who . . . claims to have been injured by” conduct prohibited by section 3604 is an “aggrieved person.” Webb alleged that housing was made “unavailable” based on his sex, regardless of whether he paid rent. View "Webb v. United States Veterans Initiative and Community Partnership" on Justia Law

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The March 2020 “CARES Act,” 134 Stat. 281, included a 120-day moratorium on eviction filings based on nonpayment of rent for tenants residing in certain federally financed rental properties, which expired in July 2020. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director unilaterally issued the “Halt Order” declaring a new moratorium, halting evictions of certain “covered persons” through December 31, 2020, purportedly based on authority found in Section 361 of the Public Health Service Act, 42 U.S.C. 264, which provides the Secretary of Health and Human Services with the power to “make and enforce such regulations as in his judgment are necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases.” Congress subsequently passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which extended that Halt Order from December 31 to January 31, 134 Stat. 1182. Just before that statutory extension lapsed, the CDC Director issued a new directive extending the order through March 31, 2021, again relying on the generic rulemaking power arising from the Public Health Service Act.Landlords sued. The district court held that the Halt Order exceeded the CDC’s statutory authority. The Sixth Circuit declined to stay the order. Congressional acquiescence in the CDC’s assertion that the Halt Order was supported by the Act does not make it so; the plain text of that provision indicates otherwise. View "Tiger Lily, LLC v. United States Department of Housing and Urban Development" on Justia Law