“Does a right of first refusal contained in a written lease expire when that leasehold ends and the tenant becomes a ‘holdover’ tenant, and when the lease specifies ‘the continuing [holdover] tenancy will be from month to month’? We conclude that a right of first refusal is not an essential term that carries forward into a holdover tenancy unless the parties so indicate.”
In Smyth v. Berman, the Second District Court of Appeal held that, when a commercial tenant has a “right of first refusal” to purchase the property, included in a term lease agreement, that right is not among the “essential terms” of the lease. Because it is not essential, it is not included among the terms and conditions of the periodic tenancy created by the tenant’s holdover and the landlord’s acceptance of rent.
“When a lease expires but the tenant remains in possession, the ‘relationship’ of the landlord and tenant ‘changes’. The ‘lessor-lessee relationship’ based on ‘privity of contract’ ends, and a new ‘landlord’-‘tenant’ relationship based on ‘privity of estate’ springs into being by the operation of law. (Civ. Code §1945.) This new ‘hold-over’ tenancy is presumed to continue under the same terms contained in the now-expired lease except as those terms may have been modified by the landlord and tenant. (Civ. Code, § 1945) This case tees up the question: If the expired lease contained a right of first refusal, is that right one of the ‘terms’ that presumptively carries forward into the holdover tenancy? We conclude that the answer is ‘no’.”
The court added that this is merely a presumption, and the parties could contract for this term to renew. But absent such intention, this presumption added to the stability of commercial tenancies, by allowing the holdover tenant to remain on a month-to-month basis, under terms and conditions that didn’t give the landlord an incentive to nullify the right of first refusal by evicting their tenant.
“The litigation privilege is ‘not without limit’, as the Action Apartment court took pains to point out. (Action Apartment, supra, 41 Cal.4th at p. 1242.) Because recognition of the privilege here would neuter section 1942.5 by removing eviction from the statutory remedy of retaliatory eviction, we view the clash between section 47, subdivision (b), on the one hand, and section 1942.5, subdivisions (d) and (h), on the other, as irreconcilable. To be consistent with the high court’s guidance that we give section 1942.5 a liberal construction designed to achieve the legislative purpose, we conclude that the litigation privilege must yield to it.”
In Winslett v. 1811 27th Avenue, LLC (2018), a former tenant filed a complaint against a landlord for retaliation and retaliatory eviction, under Section 1942.5 of the Civil Code, as well as violations of Oakland’s just cause for eviction ordinance. The trial court granted the landlord’s anti-SLAPP motion to strike. The tenant appealed the trial court’s ruling that the litigation privilege barred the retaliation claims and that her claims under the eviction control ordinance were based on protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute. The Court of Appeal agreed and reversed.
Continue reading Division Four of First District Court of Appeal Harmonizes Litigation Privilege with Tenant Anti-Retaliation Statute in Winslett v. 1811 27th Avenue, LLC
Knight argues, and the trial court agreed, that Salima became a tenant at sufferance no later than when Knight filed the unlawful detainer action against her; therefore, she had only the right of “naked possession,” i.e., the right not to be forcibly evicted without legal process. Salima argues that despite her nonpayment of rent, she retained all legal rights as a month-to-month tenant until she was dispossessed following the conclusion of the unlawful detainer action.
In Multani v. Knight, a commercial tenant (Multani) leased a commercial space from Knight, to use as a medical clinic. As she was winding down her practice, her sons contracted to sell to another physician. However, because of medical issues, Multani stopped maintaining the business. Landlord Knight served a three-day rent demand notice, filed an unlawful detainer when it went uncured, and took possession by default.
In the meantime, plumbing problems lead to water damage to the personal property/medical equipment in the clinic. After the default judgment for possession, Multani sued for conversion of the personal property/fixtures, breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment (later re-characterized as “constructive eviction” from a commercial tenancy), interference with contract, and a handful of other claims. Knight cross-complained for the unpaid rent.
Knight filed for summary judgment, arguing that Multani, “could not prevail on any of her claims because she was unlawfully on the premises at all times after July 1, 2011, and was illegally on the premises after December 9, 2011”. This argument, adopted by the trial court, became the architecture for an aggressive published appellate opinion about when the law discharges a landlord’s obligations to a defaulting tenant.
Continue reading Multani v. Knight (2018): Second District Court of Appeal Takes Expansive Approach To Discharging Landlord’s Obligations Following Expiration of Rent Demand Notice
“Where an unlawful detainer proceeding is based on the tenant’s breach, the cause of action does not arise until the expiration of the notice period without the default being cured by the tenant. (§ 1161, subd. 2; Downing v. Cutting Packing Co. (1920) 183 Cal. 91, 95-96.) The complaint cannot be filed until the full notice period has expired, since the tenant is not guilty of unlawful detainer until the full three days — or in the instant matter, 14 days – have expired. (Nicolaysen v. Pacific Home (1944) 65 Cal.App.2d 769, 773 [‘tenancy is not terminated upon the giving of the notice but upon the expiration of the period therein specified’]”
In Hsieh v. Pederson (2018), a landlord appealed from a judgment for a tenant on the procedural basis that the entire action was untimely. A cause of action for unlawful detainer is (commonly) created by the service and expiration of an uncured notice. The tenant moved for judgment on the pleadings, and the trial court granted it on the basis that the notice – which allowed as an alternative cure that the tenant may pay personally during weekdays – could only count those weekdays as part of the “cure period”. Excluding weekends, the action was filed before the expiration of the notice; the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court reversed.
Section 1161(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure describes a notice to pay rent or quit. (This is probably the quintessential “eviction notice”, described by statute as a “three day notice”, although for some reason unclear from the record, this case involved a “fourteen day notice”.)
A notice to pay rent or quit must state the essentials – the rent due and the name, number and address of the person who can receive the “cure”. The notice may also allow payment by personal delivery, in which case, it must also state the usual days/hours the personal delivery can be made.
The court held that, “Under the clear language of the [unlawful detainer] statute, the decision to allow personal payment of the rent, in addition to allowing payment by mail by the tenant, is up to the landlord.”
“Sayta subsequently brought a motion to enforce the settlement pursuant to section 664.6, alleging breach of a confidentiality provision and seeking liquidated damages. The trial court denied the motion on the merits and Sayta appeals Because the parties failed to request, before dismissal, that the trial court retain jurisdiction to enforce the settlement, or alternatively seek to set aside the dismissals, we find the court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the motion. We therefore reverse on that basis and do not reach the merits.”
Sayta v. Chu represents the importance of understanding civil procedure in crafting effective and enforceable settlement agreements.
Very few cases actually go to trial. Through all the posturing, law and motion, discovery and settlement discussions, attorneys are generally able to anticipate likely outcomes to obtain “good enough” results, without their clients paying for an answer to the question “who was right?”. (Or, put another way, settlement allows the parties to determine the outcome, while trial gives control over the outcome to the judge and jury.)
A “settlement agreement” is essentially a contract and is generally interpreted and enforced like a contract. This could create a problem of regression: settling a claim (like one for “breach of contract”) results in a “settlement contract”. The settlement contract could also be breached and enforced with a lawsuit, which can be settled with a settlement contract, which can be breached, etc., etc. Lawsuits could never be settled because the claim would only be deferred to the next lawsuit.
Continue reading Sayta v. Chu (2017) – Parties Must Obtain Court Order To Retain Jurisdiction To Enforce After Dismissal
San Francisco Apartment Association and Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute appealed the 2015 district court ruling upholding San Francisco’s Buyout Ordinance. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit upheld the ruling of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, affirming its judgment on the pleadings, and upholding the ordinance on constitutional grounds.
In so ruling, the Court concluded that the Buyout Ordinance did not violate the various constitutional rights asserted (e.g., free speech rights, equal protection of the laws, liberty to contract, right to privacy) under any of the distinct provisions challenged: (1) the “Disclosure Provision”, (2) the “Notification Provision”, (3) the “Rescission Provision”, (4) the “Database Provision”, (5) the “Penalty and Fee Provision”, and (6) the “Condominium Conversion Provision”.
Continue reading SFAA v. CCSF (2018) – 9th Circuit Affirms N.D. Cal. Judgment on the Pleadings for San Francisco in Buyout Challenge
“Permitting a landlord to evict a tenant for failure to pay the full market amount of rent because the landlord failed to remedy basic violations of the habitability standards of Section 8 would reward the landlord for its bad behavior, and perhaps even create an incentive for landlords to refuse to correct defects with their properties.”
In Scott v. Kaiuum, the Appellate Division for the County of Fresno considered California State unlawful detainer procedure in the context of Section 8 tenancies subject to rent abatement for habitability defects. It noted that a landlord can terminate a tenancy by serving a three-day notice to cure and quit, which states the “precise sum” that is due. However, while Congress and HUD defer to state law on terminating tenancies, HUD regulations require that the landlord maintain the unit in accordance with Housing Quality Standards (HQS), and if the landlord fails to do this, the housing authority may reduce or suspend housing assistance payments. (HUD regulation further provides that the family is not responsible for the portion of the rent covered by the housing assistance payment under the subsidy contract.)
In reversing the trial court judgment for the landlord, the Appellate Division found that the landlord had served a three-day notice after the Housing Authority abated the subsidy payment based on the landlord’s own violations of the habitability standards under Section 8. By demanding the entire amount, instead of just the tenant’s portion, the landlord overstated the amount of rent due.
The Appellate Division correctly applied federal HUD regulations to state unlawful detainer law. However, it went further to say that the landlord could not even demand rent at all (under substantive California law governing landlord-tenant relationships), because of the habitability defects as stated in the Housing Authority “abatement letter”. It stressed that the defects described in the letter would have constituted habitability defects preventing the landlord from serving a three-day notice in the first place.
In doing so, the Appellate Division seemed to be giving some form of evidentiary presumption to the abatement letter – a presumption that does not exist in California rental housing law. While those defects may indeed have existed, and while the abatement letter may have been served as incidental evidence of the defects, the tenant would have nonetheless been required to establish the existence of the defects at trial. At that point, the defects might have frustrated the issuance of the three-day notice in the first place, or they may have just justified a reduced “reasonable rental value”, and the tenant could have paid the reduced rent to remain in possession. In other words, there is not necessarily a straight line between the issuance of an abatement letter and the withholding of the subsidy portion of the rent and a complete abatement of all rental obligation.