Category Archives: Case Law

Sayta v. Chu (2017) – Parties Must Obtain Court Order To Retain Jurisdiction To Enforce After Dismissal

“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

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SFAA v. CCSF (2018) – 9th Circuit Affirms N.D. Cal. Judgment on the Pleadings for San Francisco in Buyout Challenge

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

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Second District Challenges Supreme Court on Timing of Post-Foreclosure Eviction “Three Day Notice To Quit”

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“A trial court acquires jurisdiction over the parties when the plaintiff serves the defendant with the unlawful detainer summons and complaint. (Borsuk v. Appellate Division of Superior Court (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 607, 612.) Service of the notice to quit is an element of the action that must be alleged in the complaint and proven at trial, but it does not give the court jurisdiction over the parties.”

In U.S. Financial, L.P. v. McLitus, a purchaser at a trustee’s sale following non-judicial foreclosure served a three-day notice to quit on the former owner, following the purchase but before perfecting title after the sale, and brought an unlawful detainer action to recover possession. The Superior Court for the County of San Diego awarded possession to the purchaser, but the previous owner appealed to the Appellate Division of the Superior Court, which reversed and remanded.
Continue reading Second District Challenges Supreme Court on Timing of Post-Foreclosure Eviction “Three Day Notice To Quit”

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Scott v. Kaiuum (2017): Appellate Division for the County of Fresno Parses Subsidized Tenant’s Rent Payment Obligations Amidst Housing Authority Rent Abatement

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“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.

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North 7th Street Associates v. Constante: Rent Demand Notice Will Not Support an Unlawful Detainer Judgment for Possession of Non-permitted Units

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For decades, the Second District Court of Appeals case Gruzen v. Henry (1978) 84 Cal. App. 3d 515 has stood for the proposition that a landlord may not collect “rent” under a residential lease where the premises lacks a certificate of occupancy. These agreements are void, and landlords cannot enforce these void agreements, in the event the tenant stops paying rent, with an unlawful detainer lawsuit for recovery of the putative rental payment obligations. No rent can be owed on a void agreement.

Unfortunately, Gruzen, which reviewed entry of judgment for the plaintiff/landlord for past due rent and possession of the premises, only modified the judgment to strike the money damages. It otherwise allowed the landlord to recover possession. And this has led to some confusion, especially in San Francisco, where these “unauthorized dwelling units” are still somehow considered a valuable part of the City’s rental housing stock, despite their lack of permits or building code requirements to obtain permits.

North 7th Street Associates v. Constante thankfully clarifies the application of the ruling in Gruzen:

“[T]he court in Gruzen was never asked to decide – and did not decide – the issue we address here, namely, whether the three-day notice alleging past-due rent of $739.35 was fatally defective because defendant’s actual rent obligation was zero, and whether defendant was consequently entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law. It is axiomatic that an opinion is not authority for a proposition that was not considered in that appeal.”

In North 7th Street Associates v. Constante, a landlord issued a three day notice to pay rent or quit, based on the tenant’s failure to pay for several months of rent under the oral lease. When the tenant failed to cure the notice, the landlord filed an unlawful detainer lawsuit, demanding the past due rent and possession.

The tenant resisted the lawsuit, filing a motion for summary judgment and advancing “a January 29, 2015 housing inspector’s Notice of Abatement which found, inter alia, that defendant’s unit (in which he had lived for approximately 15 years) had been constructed without a building permit, that it was not authorized to be used as a dwelling, and that no certificate of occupancy was ever issued for it”.

On appeal, the landlord relied on Gruzen to argue that he was nonetheless entitled to possession (and that, essentially, that the tenant could keep the 800 bucks and get out). The Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court was not convinced:

“[I]f plaintiff could not collect any rent from defendant, then defendant had no obligation to pay any rent to plaintiff. Furthermore, if defendant did not owe any rent to plaintiff, the three-day notice claiming $739.35 in past-due rent was necessarily an overstatement of defendant’s rental obligation, which could only be properly calculated as zero. Since the three-day notice which was the basis for this unlawful detainer action failed to comply with the strict statutory requirements, it was invalid and could not support the action.”

It correctly noted that unlawful detainers are creatures of statute, and if you do not comply with the provision you invoke to get into court, you may not avail yourself of this summary proceeding for possession. Neither could the landlord simply terminate the tenancy, because – while it was not technically a “rental unit” – it is nonetheless covered by the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

However, it does not follow that a tenant may live in an unpermitted unit, free from both evictions and the obligation to pay rent, indefinitely. In a footnote, the Appellate Division noted, “Plaintiff is, of course, not without a remedy in this circumstance since it may initiate an unlawful detainer to recover possession of the premises from defendant in order to comply with the January 2015 Notice of Abatement. (LARSO, § 151.09A, subd. (11).)”

Ultimately, the Appellate Division decision is only binding on other trial courts, but its interpretation of Gruzen is sound, and its ruling creates a common sense distinction between a tenant’s ability to resist obligations on a void contract and a landlord’s need to recover an unpermitted unit to either legalize it or demolish it.

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Beach Break Equities, LLC v. Lowell – Defendant’s Right to Restitution Hearing Following Reversal

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“As a general rule, when a judgment is reversed on appeal, the appellant is entitled to restitution for all things lost by reason of the judgment. This principle is embodied in California statutory law and settled equitable principles . . . When a landlord who has secured a writ of possession evicts a tenant before the appellate rights of the tenant have been exhausted, the landlord assumes the risk it will be subject to a full accounting and restitution if the judgment granting the writ of possession is reversed on appeal.”

Beach Break Equities is a cautionary tale to unlawful detainer plaintiffs to be strategic in how and when they recover possession.

Continue reading Beach Break Equities, LLC v. Lowell – Defendant’s Right to Restitution Hearing Following Reversal

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Hjelm v. Prometheus Real Estate Group, Inc. – First District Court of Appeals Instructs on the Importance of Following the Rules

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The opinion of the First District Court of Appeals in Hjelm v. Prometheus Real Estate Group, Inc. reads like a lecture to Prometheus and its counsel. It reviewed the history of the dispute between the parties – from the execution of improperly drafted lease, through the vacating of a mismanaged property, through an over-litigated case (with two motions for summary adjudication on the single issue of entitlement to fees), which culminated in a partially untimely appeal. Hjelm teaches important lessons to property managers and attorneys on how to avoid being penalized for not following the rules.

The trial court found that the Hjelms signed a residential lease for a rental unit in San Mateo. They did not have an opportunity to negotiate their lease, which was mailed to them out of state for their signature. The family vacated a little over a year after moving in, following a persistent and unaddressed bedbug problem. At trial, management personnel testified that they had no real policy for dealing with bedbugs and that high turnover prevented new employees from effectively taking on existing problems.

The appeal sought to review the judgment itself, as well as a healthy award of $326,475.00 in attorneys’ fees (accrued in obtaining damages of only about $70,000.00). However, only the award of attorneys’ fees was properly before the Court because the appeal of the verdict was untimely.
Continue reading Hjelm v. Prometheus Real Estate Group, Inc. – First District Court of Appeals Instructs on the Importance of Following the Rules

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Morlin Asset Management, LP v. Murachanian: Tenant’s Indemnity Clause Not a Basis for Recovery by Landlord for Premises Liability

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In Morlin Asset Management, LP v. Murachanian, the Second District Court of Appeals found that an indemnity clause in a tenant’s lease did not cover claims by a cleaning service against the building owner, when their employee slipped on stairs attempting to service the tenant’s unit. The employee spilled a bucket of soapy water on the stairs while ascending, slipped, and hit his head. When the employee sued the owner for negligence and premises liability (on the theory that defective stairs caused the fall), the landlord cross-complained for indemnity against the tenant – a dentist who hired the cleaning service.

The Second District Court of Appeals held that, while there was an indemnity clause in the tenant’s lease, for the benefit of the landlord, and while these clauses are construed broadly in the context of insurance coverage, it could not be said that the plaintiff’s injury arose out of the tenant’s use of the property.

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