Articles Posted in Landlord - Tenant

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Mallets Bay Homeowner’s Association appealed the trial court’s partial denial of its motion to stay the issuance of a writ of possession in favor of Mongeon Bay Properties (MBP) following the termination of the Association’s ground lease. Members of the Mongeon family set up a partnership to own the land under approximately 25 camps, and the partnership entered into a ground lease with the Association, rather than the individual owners of each residence. The ground lease was due to expire in 2036. The lease contained a forfeiture clause, providing that the lease would terminate “if the [Association] shall fail to perform or comply with any terms of this Lease.” MBP sued the Association in January 2012, seeking damages and termination of the ground lease because the Association had failed to perform reasonable repairs and upkeep as required by the lease. The trial court concluded that the Association’s failure to properly maintain the property and the resulting damage amounted to “waste,” and therefore the Association had violated the lease. However, the trial court determined that terminating the lease under the default provision was inequitable and instead awarded MBP damages to cover the cost of repairing the property. On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the Association had breached the lease, but remanded for reconsideration of MBP’s remedy. In 2016, the Association requested that the trial court stay the issuance of a writ of possession, arguing there was good cause for the court to stay the writ until 2036, when the lease was set to expire. The trial court entered judgment in favor of MBP, terminated the ground lease, and held MBP was to be granted a writ of possession for the property. After review, the Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s order in part, and remanded for the trial court to exercise its discretion. On remand, the question about which the trial court should exercise its discretion was whether to grant a longer stay than reflected in an October 31 order. The trial court could exercise that discretion on the basis of the parties’ pleadings, or decide to not hold any further hearings unless it chooses to. View "Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC v. Mallets Bay Homeowner's Assn., Inc." on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether, and under what circumstances, a court may decline on equitable grounds to enforce a provision in a long-term ground lease giving the lessor the right to terminate the lease and reenter the premises in the event of a default. Plaintiff Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC (MBP) sued defendant Mallets Bay Homeowner’s Association seeking to void a multi-year ground lease for property abutting Lake Champlain on account of alleged breaches of the covenants in that agreement. After a bench trial, the trial court concluded that the Association had violated its obligations under the lease by failing to reasonably maintain the embankments abutting Lake Champlain to protect them from erosion. However, the court declined to enforce the forfeiture clause in the lease against the Association, and awarded MBP damages to enable it to undertake the necessary restoration and bank protection. The Association appealed the ruling that it breached the lease, and MBP appealed the trial court’s award of damages in lieu of forfeiture. After review of the particular facts of this matter, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s determination that the Association breached the lease, but reversed its refusals to declare termination of the lease and to issue a writ of possession to MBP. The case was remanded for reconsideration of MBP’s remedy. View "Mongeon Bay Properties, LLC v. Mallets Bay Homeowner's Assn." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs owned a building, with a mortgage, in Hartford, Vermont, where they operated a pizza business. In 2013, they sold the pizza business to defendant and leased him the premises. In November 2013, plaintiffs brought an eviction action, asserting that defendant had failed to pay rent. The court granted plaintiffs a default judgment and a writ of possession in December 2013. The court subsequently granted defendant’s request to vacate the default judgment and stay the writ of possession. Defendant then filed an answer and a counterclaim. In his counterclaim, defendant argued that he was fraudulently induced into entering into the lease agreement and that the lease should be declared void. Alternatively, defendant argued that he had cured any breach of the lease by paying money into an escrow fund. Defendant appealed the trial court’s order granting judgment to plaintiffs on their complaint for ejectment and damages. Finding no reversible error, the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed. View "Panagiotidis v. Galanis" on Justia Law

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Defendant-landlords appealed a jury verdict and post-judgment order involving warranty-of-habitability and consumer-protection claims. Landlords William and Susan O’Brien purchased the subject property in the 1980s, which included a two-story house and brick building (referred to as the creamery) with a common wall to the rear of the house. In December 2002, following foreclosure proceedings on their home, plaintiff-tenants, Timothy and Penny Terry, along with their two children, accepted landlords’ offer to occupy the house rent-free for a short period. After their first year in the house, tenants began paying rent. There was no written rental agreement, but from at least December 2005, six years before tenants filed this lawsuit, there was an oral agreement to pay monthly rent in an amount that varied over the years. Eventually, the parties’ relationship deteriorated. In March 2005, Burlington Code Enforcement (BCE) inspected the house and cited landlords for multiple problems that required repair. A follow-up inspection in January 2006 confirmed that most of the repairs had been completed. BCE inspected the property again later in 2006 and found additional items that required repair, most of which were completed soon thereafter. In 2008, BCE performed several more inspections and issued notices of violations, many of which concerned the creamery. In May 2008, Vermont Gas inspected the house’s furnace and determined that it needed to be repaired or replaced because it was in extremely poor condition. In November 2008, landlords had space heater installed on the first floor of the house, but it was insufficient to heat the second floor. As a result, tenants began using space heaters on the second floor at night. In late 2008, a fire broke out in the attic of the house above one of the bedrooms. The state fire investigator determined that the fire had begun at an electrical splice located in the attic. The investigator also noted tenants’ use of multiple extension cords and supplemental wiring due to the insufficient number of functioning outlets. The investigator concluded that the fire was caused by a combination of the load on the older electrical system, moisture from the cellulose insulation, and the inability of the knob-and-tube wiring to shed heat due to it being buried in the insulation. In 2011, the Terrys filed suit against landlords, alleging: (1) breach of the oral rental agreement; (2) breach of the warranty of habitability; (3) breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment (with respect to public health hazards); (4) violation of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA); (5) negligence; and (6) negligent infliction of emotional distress. Tenants sought, among other things, compensatory, consequential, punitive, and exemplary damages, as well as attorney’s fees. Landlords counterclaimed for unpaid rent. Landlords’ arguments on appeal of the jury verdict were: (1) the trial court’s jury instructions misled the jury on tenants’ habitability and CPA claims, resulting in prejudice to landlords; (2) the court erred by vacating the jury’s unpaid-rent award in its post-judgment order; and (3) the court abused its discretion by awarding tenants attorney’s fees on their habitability and CPA claims and by denying landlords’ attorney’s fees based on tenants’ contributory negligence. The Supreme Court found that the trial court’s CPA instruction was overly broad and prejudicial to the landlords, and therefore the verdict was vacated with respect to the CPA claim. Absent their habitability claim, there was no basis for tenants to withhold rent. Therefore, the jury’s verdict regarding unpaid rent must stand. The Court also vacated the award of attorney fees, and remanded the matter back to the trial court for further proceedings. View "Terry v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Tenant was the successor lessee to a thirty-year lease on a commercial property in Brattleboro. The lease was executed in 1987. The lease established a basic annual rent of $26,500 in paragraph 8, and then set forth how the rent would increase in subsequent years. Pursuant to the rent-increase provision, each year landlords calculated the annual rent increase and sent a notice to tenant. The increase was calculated as the percentage change in the CPI from the previous year to the current year multiplied by the previous year's rent. This increase was then added to the prior year's rent to arrive at the new annual rent. In March 2007, tenant assumed the lease. From 2008 to 2012, landlords sent rent-increase notices and tenant paid rent annually adjusted for increases, calculated according to this method, without objection. In 2013, landlords sent the annual rent increase notice to tenants. The notice reflected the new 2013 rent as $54,060. Tenant objected to the amount of rent and the calculation method for rental increases. The parties were unable to resolve their dispute, and tenant filed an action seeking both a declaration that its interpretation of the lease language was correct and damages for overpaid rent. Tenant appealed the court's order granting summary judgment in favor of defendant landlords on the parties' dispute concerning a rental-increase provision of the lease. Tenant argued on appeal that the court erred in using extrinsic evidence to interpret a portion of the lease tenant believed was unambiguous, and in reaching an inequitable result. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "B&C Management Vermont, Inc. v. John, Ringey & Beck" on Justia Law

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This case stemmed from a dispute over damage to a leased commercial space. The case was tried before a jury, which awarded plaintiff-landlord David Walsh, just under $11,000 in damages attributable to defendant-tenant Frank Cluba. Following the jury verdict, the trial court awarded Walsh over $44,000 in attorney's fees. Cluba appealed, arguing that the court erred by allowing Walsh to testify on the reasonableness of repair work done after Cluba vacated the property and by awarding Walsh an unreasonable amount of attorney's fees under the circumstances. Walsh cross-appealed, arguing that the court erred by dismissing his claims against defendant Good Stuff, Inc., the business that Cluba and his partner incorporated shortly after Cluba signed the initial lease of the subject property. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Walsh v. Cluba" on Justia Law

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In February 2005, tenants Brian Ayer and Debbie Martell began leasing a single-family home from landlord-plaintiff JW, LLC. Tenants resided in the home with their children and animals, including dogs and chickens. At the time tenants moved in, the house was relatively new and in excellent condition. The monthly rent was $1300. Tenants paid no rent in March and April 2012. They paid rent in May 2012 plus $300 in arrears, but made no further rental payments. Landlord filed for eviction in July 2012. The court issued a rent escrow order. Tenants made only a partial rental payment in August, and the court issued an order for a writ of possession. The writ issued on August 10, 2012 and was served ten days later. The writ stated that tenants had to vacate the premises by midnight on September 6, 2012. On the return of service, the sheriff noted that he had explained the writ and tenants had no questions, and, although tenants refused to take the paperwork, the sheriff left it at the residence. Landlord denied tenant further access to the residence to claim property. Landlord also denied tenant access to the items that landlord had retained. Landlord claimed that the justification for retaining tenants’ personal property was based on two statutes. The issue this case presented to the Supreme Court centered on the status of tenants’ personal property, which landlord cleared from the leased premises at the time a writ of possession was executed. The trial court concluded that landlord did not rightfully have possession of the property and ordered landlord to return it to tenant. Landlord argued that pursuant to statute he was entitled to retain the property, and, in the alternative, the court erred in denying his request for a writ of attachment for the property. The Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court that 12 V.S.A. 4854a only allowed a landlord who has evicted a tenant to dispose of trash without the threat of liability, and for other property requires a landlord "to make reasonable efforts to find out what tenant plans to do and to store the property for 60 days." Because the dwelling unit was not abandoned and the tenant did not vacate, 9 V.S.A. 4462 did not apply, and there was no statutory basis to require a landlord to store property remaining in a dwelling unit after an eviction. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded this case for further proceedings. View "JW, LLC v. Ayer and Martell" on Justia Law

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The question in this case was whether the trial court's dismissal of plaintiff's eviction action on account of her lawyer's failure to attend a scheduled status conference can withstand a motion to set aside the judgment pursuant to Vermont Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) given the facts of this case. After careful review of those facts, the Supreme Court concluded that it could not and reversed. View "Ying v. Heide" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Thomas Kellogg owned a house and land in Bethel.  In 1999, he entered into a rent-to-own agreement with William Oren whereby Oren would pay over time for the property, at which point ownership would be transferred to him. Beginning in 2000 and then from 2001 onwards, defendant Cindy Shushereba began to occupy the house with Oren in a romantic relationship. By August 2004, it was contemplated that defendant would co-own the property.  Plaintiff indicated that he wished to come to an agreement to sell the property to defendant and Oren. To that end, defendant liquidated her savings and paid plaintiff for a downpayment on the house.  Plaintiff credited Oren and defendant with the amount Oren had paid in rent.  These two contributions left roughly $98,721 to be paid to reach the purchase price.  The parties agreed orally that the balance would be paid monthly over fifteen years. No written purchase and sale agreement was ever prepared, but the parties intended that Oren and defendant would receive title immediately and give a mortgage secured by a promissory note for the installments. Plaintiff delivered a signed warranty deed to defendant, but defendant never signed the promissory note or the mortgage.  Because defendant could not pay the property transfer tax that would be due on recording, she never recorded the warranty deed.  Plaintiff testified that, at the time, he considered himself the mortgage holder only. Ultimately, the relationship between Oren and defendant dissolved, and, in May 2008, Oren moved out. A couple of months later, plaintiff and defendant became sexually involved.  During this time, plaintiff sought neither rent nor the purchase installments from defendant, and she made no payments. At some point in 2010, plaintiff began seeking rent from defendant, and she did make between two and four monthly rental payments of $650. Plaintiff paid the property taxes on the property throughout the time that defendant lived by herself in the house. Oren then sued plaintiff and defendant, seeking to be declared half-owner of the property along with defendant, from whom he sought a partition and accounting.  In September 2009, the superior court rejected Oren's claims. Defendant counterclaimed, contending that she owned the property or, in the alternative, that plaintiff had been unjustly enriched by defendant’s payments to him.  Prior to trial, the court dismissed as res judicata defendant’s claim that she owned the property, leaving the unjust-enrichment claim in her counterclaim. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of plaintiff’s claims for back rent and property taxes. However, the trial court ruled in favor of defendant with regard to her unjust enrichment claims for the return of the downpayment on the purchase price and several of her alleged capital and repair contributions. Both parties appealed. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the contract between plaintiff and defendant was a contract for deed; the trial court erred in concluding it was a landlord-tenant relationship. Because the agreement between plaintiff and defendant was a contract for deed, the amount of $833 per month that defendant had agreed to pay plaintiff went entirely toward the purchase price plus interest. When the periodic payments were complete, defendant would become the owner of the property, free and clear of any interest of plaintiff, without a further payment. There was not an agreement to pay rent; the $833 monthly payment was not part of a rental agreement between plaintiff and defendant. View "Kellogg v. Shushereba" on Justia Law

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The issue in two consolidated cases concerned a public housing authority and three of its tenants.  Bennington Housing Authority (BHA) appealed two trial court decisions dismissing ejectment claims against tenants, and granting summary judgment to tenants on two counterclaims: (1) that BHA failed to properly advise tenants of their right to request a grievance hearing when it billed them for repairs and fines; and (2) that BHA’s policy of fining tenants for open windows in the winter is prohibited under federal regulations. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that that BHA violated federal regulations for insufficient notice of the grievance procedure in both the termination of lease notices and the bills for maintenance and repair costs sent to tenants. The Court agreed with the trial court that BHA’s window-fine policy was prohibited by federal regulations.  BHA’s ejectment claims were thus dismissed, and the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on tenants’ counterclaims was affirmed. View "Bennington Housing Authority v. Lake" on Justia Law