Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in New Hampshire Supreme Court
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Plaintiff Jerry Gaucher appealed a superior court order denying his claim for payment of a $20,000 lease termination fee and awarding one of the defendants, Waterhouse Realty Trust (the Trust), costs associated with a separate eviction proceeding against plaintiff. Plaintiff argued the court erred by: (1) finding that he, and not defendants, materially breached a lease termination agreement (LTA); (2) awarding the Trust costs incurred in the separate eviction proceeding; and (3) awarding no damages in connection with the court’s prior final default judgment against another defendant, Kevin Waterhouse. After review, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly found that plaintiff, and not defendants, materially breached the LTA and, therefore, he had no right to the termination fee. However, because defendants assigned all of their rights set forth in the LTA to a third party, the Supreme Court also concluded the trial court erred in finding that the Trust was entitled to the costs associated with plaintiff’s eviction. Lastly, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s reconsideration of its prior default judgment order against Kevin Waterhouse. View "Gaucher v. Waterhouse" on Justia Law

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Defendants GMPM Company and 479 Maple Street, LLC, appealed a circuit court order granting the petition for wrongful eviction filed by plaintiff Melissa Natal. On appeal, defendants argued the circuit court erred by determining that its property was not a “shared facility” as defined by RSA 540-B:1 (2021). Specifically, defendants argued RSA 540-B:1 did not require that an owner occupy the premises, but, rather, only that an owner have access to the common areas for the purposes of cleaning, maintaining, and monitoring the premises. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, for property to qualify as a shared facility under RSA 540-B:1, the owner had to reside at the premises with the occupants. Accordingly, judgment was affirmed. View "Natal v. GMPM Company & al." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Maia Magee (tenant) appealed a circuit court order in favor of defendant Vita Cooper (landlord) on the tenant’s claim that the landlord willfully violated her right to quiet enjoyment of residential property. Tenant alleged that in retaliation for the August 4 continuance of an eviction proceeding, the landlord: (1) played “loud” rock music on an outdoor stereo system early in the morning and during the day from 8:30 a.m. on Friday, August 7 until 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, August 9, and “for several hours” after 6:00 p.m. on Monday, August 10; (2) yelled “GET OUT OF MY HOME!” loudly from her property on August 10; (3) either shot a gun or ignited firecrackers during the evening of August 9 and between 7:00 a.m. and 8:30 p.m. on August 10; and (4) had an unknown and unidentified man, carrying a camera, trespass on the leased property on August 9. Additionally, Tenant alleged that the landlord breached a term of her lease prohibiting the tenant from playing a “musical instrument, radio, television, or other like device in the leased premises in a manner offensive to other occupants of the building” or during certain hours. She assertet that, in finding to the contrary, the trial court improperly failed to consider the timing of the alleged “bad actions,” and misconstrued and mischaracterized certain items of evidence. Furthermore, Tenant contended the trial court erred by: (1) considering each of the landlord’s alleged “bad actions” individually, rather than considering whether, collectively, such actions violated her right to quiet enjoyment; (2) not considering whether the landlord’s alleged “bad actions” violated the parties’ lease; and (3) relying upon Tenant’s failure to submit evidence of a local sound ordinance. Finding that Tenant failed to meet her burden to establish that there was a question of law warranting reversal, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the trial court. View "Magee v. Cooper" 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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Plaintiff Robert St. Onge appealed a circuit court order dismissing his claim brought under RSA chapter 540-A against defendant Oberten, LLC, on the ground that the sober living facility it operated, and in which the plaintiff lived, was a “group home” under RSA 540:1-a, IV(c) and, therefore, exempt from RSA chapter 540-A.Plaintiff was one of 12 residents at defendant’s Manchester, New Hampshire location. All program participants agreed to certain rules for living at the home. The contract plaintiff signed explicitly provided that it was not a lease and that “residents of Live Free Structured Sober Living have no tenant rights.” Despite being aware of, and agreeing to, the home's rules, plaintiff violated them and, as a result, was discharged from the program and required to vacate the sober living facility. He subsequently filed a petition alleging defendant violated RSA chapter 540-A by using “self-help” to evict him. Defendant moved to dismiss the petition, arguing that because its facility was a “group home,” it was not a “landlord” required to bring an eviction proceeding under RSA chapter 540, and plaintiff was not a “tenant” entitled to the protections of RSA chapter 540-A. The trial court agreed with defendant. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court. View "St. Onge v. Oberten, LLC" on Justia Law

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Defendant Factory Mutual Insurance Company (Factory Mutual) appealed a superior court order denying its motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiffs' Daniel Ro and Sebastian Lim motion. Plaintiffs sought a declaration they were implied co-insureds under a fire insurance policy issued by Factory Mutual to the Trustees of Dartmouth College. Plaintiffs were students in 2016 living in campus dormitories. Prior to being assigned a dormitory room, each plaintiff was required to sign a form acknowledging receipt and understanding of the college’s student handbook, which included prohibitions on: (1) possessing charcoal grills in student housing; (2) lighting and burning of any item with an open flame in residence halls; and (3) placing items on, and the use of, “the roof, portico, fire escape, or any other architectural feature not designed for recreational or functional use, except in cases of emergency.” Plaintiffs set up a charcoal grill on a platform outside a fourth floor window in Lim’s dormitory. The grill started a fire on the platform, which then spread to the roof. Firefighters used a substantial quantity of water to extinguish the fire, and all four floors of the dormitory sustained water damage. Factory Mutual, which insured the building, paid the Trustees $4,544,313.55 and then brought a subrogation claim against plaintiffs to recover that amount. The trial court concluded that Factory Mutual could not maintain its counterclaims against either plaintiff, specifically noting, “To the extent Mr. Lim’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is insurable, so is Mr. Ro’s. Mr. Ro’s possessory interest in Morton Hall is analogous to that of a tenant who rents one unit in a residential complex but causes fire damage to another unit in the complex.” In affirming the superior court, the New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded that, even if plaintiffs lacked a possessory interest in their dormitories, and even if their relationship with the college was not strictly that of landlord and tenant, they had a contractual relationship with the college in which they paid for the right, subject to the noted limitations, among others, to occupy a college dormitory for a certain period of time. "This contractual relationship gave rise to the reasonable expectation that Dartmouth College carried fire insurance on its dormitories, that the plaintiffs’ room and board fees contributed, in some way, to the premium for that insurance, and, therefore, that the insurance inured to their benefit." View "Ro v. Factory Mutual Insurance Company, as Subrogee of Trustees of Dartmouth College" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs-landlords Richard and Janice Horton appealed a circuit court order dismissing their petition to evict defendants-tenants David Clemens and April Hanks, for nonpayment of rent on the ground that the eviction notice failed to comply with RSA 540:5, II because it did not contain the same information as was provided on the judicial branch form eviction notice. It was undisputed the language on the eviction notice at issue here was legally insufficient. According to the landlords, the information in the quoted paragraph “is outside the scope of any language necessitated by law and beyond the scope of the Circuit Court’s authority to create forms that comply with existing law.” The landlords asserted the missing quoted paragraph “essentially functions to provide tenants with unsolicited legal advice,” and “disrupts the careful statutory balance and the self-help provisions of RSA [chapter] 540 by informing the tenants that they are under no obligation to vacate the premises.” Alternatively, the landlords contend that even if the information from the quoted paragraph is required, dismissal of the eviction proceeding is not the proper remedy for their failure to include it in the eviction notice. The New Hampshire Supreme Court disagreed with the landlords' interpretation of the statute, and affirmed the circuit court. View "Horton v. Clemens" on Justia Law

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Defendant Nicholas Saykaly appealed a circuit court order issuing a writ of possession to plaintiff, Amanda Colburn. On appeal, defendant argued the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear plaintiff’s landlord-tenant action because the home in question was marital property subject to the parties’ ongoing divorce proceeding, and because defendant was not a “tenant” of the plaintiff. He contended the circuit court's Family Division had exclusive jurisdiction over the home until either the divorce proceeding was finalized or the family division relinquished jurisdiction over the home. Because it concluded the district division had jurisdiction to hear and decide this case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Colburn v. Saykaly" on Justia Law

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Defendant Centennial Estates Cooperative, Inc., appealed, and plaintiff, Mark DiMinico, cross-appealed a superior court order awarding declaratory and injunctive relief to plaintiff. Plaintiff was a tenant at a manufactured housing community owned by defendant. Defendant decided to improve the lot that abutted the east side of plaintiff’s lot. In order to make the lot habitable, defendant had to dig a trench and install buried electrical conduit, install a new septic system, install fill over the septic system, regrade the lot, and construct a concrete pad upon which a manufactured home could be placed. As part of this project, defendant decided to make changes to plaintiff’s lot by removing trees and vegetation on the eastern portion of plaintiff’s lot and filled in the area with truckloads of boulders and dirt, creating a six-foot berm on the lot’s eastern section. Plaintiff was not made aware of defendant’s plans to alter his lot, and did not discover the changes until after they occurred because he had been away visiting his father. Plaintiff complained to defendant’s Board of Directors, seeking to have his lot restored to its prior condition and to limit defendant’s work to the abutting lot. In response, the defendant told the plaintiff that he had no rights with respect to his lot outside of the physical footprint of his manufactured home. The trial court ruled that Defendant violated plaintiff’s right to quiet enjoyment when it deforested and regraded a portion of the lot leased by plaintiff. Finding no reversible error, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed. View "Mark DiMinico v. Centennial Estates Cooperative, Inc." on Justia Law

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Sandra Moscicki appealed a superior court order denying her motion to exclude expert testimony proffered by the appellees, Charles and Heidi Leno. In July 2008, the Lenos’ twin children, a boy and a girl, were born. In September 2009, the Lenos and their children moved into an apartment owned by Moscicki’s trust. Shortly thereafter, when the children were approximately eighteen months old, Heidi Leno “expressed concerns” regarding their son’s “speech and development.” Charles Leno had also observed that their son exhibited “significant developmental problems in the months before his eighteen-month checkup.” In October 2009, both children were tested for lead. The test revealed that both children had elevated blood lead levels (EBLLs). The children were again tested for lead in July 2010, shortly after their second birthday. This test revealed that they again had EBLLs, higher than previously recorded. Thereafter, the Lenos and their children moved out of Moscicki’s apartment. Moscicki brought an action against the Lenos, seeking unpaid rent. The Lenos then filed an action against Moscicki, alleging that their children suffered harm as a result of lead exposure while living in the apartment. The trial court consolidated these actions. The interlocutory question transferred to the New Hampshire Supreme Court called for the Court to decide whether for an expert opinion on causation to be admissible in a toxic tort case, the expert had to consider the “dose-response relationship” in reaching that opinion. The Supreme Court answered in the negative and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Moscicki v. Leno" on Justia Law