Justia Landlord - Tenant Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Washington Supreme Court
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After a night of drinking with friends, Kimberly Gerlach fell from the second-story balcony of her boyfriend’s unit at the Cove Apartments when the railing gave way. Gerlach sued, arguing Cove’s failure to repair the railing caused her fall and violated Cove’s duties to tenants and their guests. A jury agreed and found Cove was 93 percent at fault for Gerlach’s injuries. The Court of Appeals overturned this verdict and remanded for a new trial, finding the trial court erred by excluding evidence of Gerlach’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) and by not dismissing Gerlach’s statutory claim under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 (RLTA). After review, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the appeals court: (1) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding BAC evidence that was only minimally relevant to Cove’s affirmative defense and risked prejudicing the jury against Gerlach.; and (2) while the trial court should not have allowed Gerlach’s RLTA claim, "this error alone does not justify a new trial because the jury’s verdict remains valid as to Gerlach’s common law claim." View "Gerlach v. The Cove Apartments, LLC" on Justia Law

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Broadly speaking, Seattle's First-In-Time ("FIT") rule requires Seattle landlords when seeking to fill vacant tenancies to provide notice of rental criteria, screen all completed applications in chronological order, and to offer the tenancy to the first qualified applicant (subject to certain exceptions). Plaintiffs were Seattle landlords who claimed the FIT rule facially violated their state constitutional rights. The trial court ruled the FIT rule was unconstitutional on its face because: (1) the rule facially effected a per se regulatory taking for private use; (2) the rule facially infringed on plaintiffs' substantive due process rights; and (3) the rule facially infringed plaintiffs' free speech rights. The Washington Supreme Court determined the FIT rule was constitutional, "[t]he FIT rule is unquestionably an experiment." The Court adopted the definition of regulatory takings set forth in Lingle v. Chevron U.S.A., 544 U.S. 528 (2005) for the purposes of Washington Constitution article I, section 16, and held plaintiffs did not meet their burden of showing the FIT rule facially met this definition. The Court also clarified the rational basis review applied in substantive due process challenges to laws regulating the use of property, and held plaintiffs did not meet their burden of proving the FIT rule failed rational basis review on its face. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held that on its face, the FIT rule required only factual disclosures, and the City met its burden of showing the rule survived deferential scrutiny. View "Yim v. Seattle" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals certified a question of Washington law to the Washington Supreme Court concerning premises liability. Shannon Adamson, an employee of the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS), fell approximately 15 feet when the passenger ramp at the Port of Bellingham's (Port) Bellingham Cruise Terminal (BCT) collapsed. The accident caused severe, life-changing injuries. The State of Alaska leased the BCT from the Port, allowing ferries to dock at the BCT and load and unload passengers and their vehicles. The Port elected to not implement an interlock device; when Adamson was operating the passenger ramp, slack was created in some attached cables. When she removed the locking pins, the ramp collapsed, snapped the cables, and Adamson and the ramp fell approximately 15 feet until the ramp caught on the ferry. Adamson and her husband sued the Port in federal court, alleging negligence and seeking damages for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering and loss of consortium. The federal court determined Adamson was the Port's business invitee; the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamson and awarded over $16 million in damages. The court found the Port under three separate theories of liability: duty to a business invitee, duty as a landlord, and a promise to perform repairs under the lease contract. The issue presented to the Washington Supreme Court centered on whether a property owner-landlord was liable for injuries that occur on its property when the lessee has exclusive possession at the time of the accident but only priority use under the lease and the landlord has contracted to maintain and repair the premises. The Supreme Court answered the first certified question in the affirmative and consequently, did not address the second question. View "Adamson v. Port of Bellingham" on Justia Law

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Petitioner Kasey Harmon, a 53-year-old woman in failing health, was evicted from her home following a default judgment and writ of restitution. During the eviction, Harmon obtained an ex parte order staying enforcement of the judgment. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act of 1973 (RLTA) prohibited such an order. The Washington Supreme Court concluded the RLTA did not apply to tenants, like Harmon, who contested entry of a default judgment in unlawful detainer actions: these actions were governed by the Civil Rules. Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals' decision, including the award of appellate attorney fees and costs to Reynolds. View "Randy Reynolds & Assocs. v. Harmon" on Justia Law

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Tenants Michael Brown and Jill Wahleithner received a notice of eviction from landlords Stephen Faciszewski and Virginia Klamon, invoking Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) 22.206.160(C)(1)(e). In accordance with that provision, the notice stated Landlords were terminating the tenancy because "[Landlords] seek to possess the Property so that at least one immediate family member (or, in the alternative, one of us) may occupy the [Seattle] Property as a principal residence." Landlords subsequently clarified that Faciszewski's parents would be moving into the house so that Faciszewski could care for his ailing father. Following his father's death, Faciszewski indicated that only his mother planned to move into the house. Because of an earlier dispute, Tenants believed that Landlords' stated reason was pretext. Tenants thus began researching Faciszewski's parents on the Internet and found that Faciszewski's mother: (1) owned a home in Colorado that was not listed for sale or for rent; (2) she was scheduled to teach a class at a Colorado center in the fall; (3) she volunteered at a Colorado hospital for many years and continued to do so; and ( 4) she had not informed the center or the hospital of any plans to move. Citing this information, Tenants complained to the City, and in response Landlords filed with the City a certification of intent to carry out the stated reason. Because the certification provided that "[Faciszewski] or/and ... his mother" would occupy the property, Tenants continued to believe Landlords' stated reason was a pretext. Accordingly, Tenants refused to comply. The issue this case presented for the Washington Supreme Court’s review was whether the trial court could consider evidence challenging just cause once the landlord filed the certification allowed under Seattle Municipal Code 22.206.160(C)(4). The court commissioner presiding over the show cause hearing set the matter for trial after determining that there were issues of fact as to the landlords' stated reason for the eviction. The King County Superior Court revised the commissioner's ruling, issued a writ of restitution restoring possession of the property to the landlords, and struck the trial date because "the statutory scheme does not require ... a trial once [the landlord files a] statement under penalty of perjury." The Court of Appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the law afforded the tenant to contest the eviction at the show cause hearing. View "Faciszewski v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Norma Tison entered into a lease for a mobile home lot in October 2001. The lease was executed on a preprinted form prepared by Manufactured Housing Communities of Washington. It was a one-year lease with several handwritten provisions that Tison specifically negotiated. The lease called for a monthly rent of $345 and contained a negotiated provision (the “rent cap provision”) that stated, "Every other year, rent will be raised no more than $10.00 for remaining tenancy." Petitioner Western Plaza LLC purchased the mobile home park in February 2008. At that time, Tison's monthly rent was $375. In March 2009, Western Plaza sent Tison a notice that her rent would be increased to $405 starting in July 2009. Tison began paying $385 per month, consistent with the rent cap provision; there was nothing in the record that indicated whether Western Plaza contemporaneously rejected any of Tison's $385 payments or indicated to her that it considered those payments partial. In June 2011, Western Plaza informed Tison that her rent would increase to $495 starting in October 2011. Relying on the rent cap provision, Tison attempted to pay the $395 she believed was due. Western Plaza rejected her payments and initiated this unlawful detainer action. Tison moved for summary judgment, arguing that Western Plaza was bound by the rent cap provision. Western Plaza argued that the rent cap provision was not enforceable because it conflicted with the Manufactured/Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act (MHLTA) and violated the statute of frauds. The trial court denied Tison's motion for summary judgment and resolved the unlawful detainer action in Western Plaza's favor. The Court of Appeals reversed. After review, the Supreme Court held hold that the provision was permissible under the MHLTA and that the writing and signatures on the lease satisfied the statute of frauds applicable to rental agreements for mobile home lots. The Court therefore affirmed the Court of Appeals. View "Western Plaza, LLC v. Tison" on Justia Law

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Rogaciano and Raquel Cabrera bought a house in Pasco, Washington, in 2007. In 2011, they obtained a license from the city to rent the house as a single residential unit. Contrary to the license, the Cabreras rented the upstairs and the basement as separate apartments. The Cabreras leased the basement to Jose Segura and Tabetha Gonzalez (collectively Segura) for a year. Segura paid $600 for the first month's rent, $600 for a rental security deposit, and $150 as a deposit for electric utility service. Five days later, the city of Pasco Code Enforcement Office inspected the property and found that the Cabreras had converted the single family dwelling into a duplex without a permit and that the basement unit was uninhabitable. Accordingly, the city ordered Segura to vacate the premises within 20 days. Segura sought compensation from the Cabreras. The Cabreras did not respond to the letter. On July 19, the Cabreras gave Segura a notice to vacate by August 7, 2011. Segura claimed that after sending the demand letter but before this move-out deadline, Mr. Cabrera entered the unit without notice, changed the locks, removed some of Segura's personal property, and tried to have Segura's car towed from the property. Segura sued the Cabreras on July 26 for damages under the Residential Landlord-Tenant Act (RLTA). The Cabreras answered, alleging, as the only affirmative defense, that"[ d]efendant had no knowledge it was illegal." Segura moved for summary judgment, seeking money for rent, security deposit, utility deposit, relocation assistance and other expenses related to moving into a new home, plus $1,000.00 in emotional distress damages, and $5,209.55 in attorney fees. The trial court granted Segura's motion for summary judgment but rejected the request for emotional distress damages, concluding they were not recoverable under RCW 59.18.085(3). The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of emotional distress damages in a published, split decision. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the plain language of RCW 59.18.085 does not allow recovery for emotional distress. View "Segura v. Cabrera" on Justia Law