Category Archives: Case Law

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.


Second District Court of Appeal Champions Public Policy Above “Freedom To Contract” in Boston, LLC v. Juarez (2016)

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“Permitting landlords like Boston with superior bargaining power to forfeit leases based on minor or trivial breaches would allow them to strategically circumvent LARSO’s “good cause” eviction requirements and disguise pretext evictions under the cloak of contract provisions. Such provisions, which enable pretext evictions, are unenforceable on grounds of public policy if . . . the interest in its enforcement is clearly outweighed in the circumstances by a public policy against the enforcement of such terms.”

A 2015 case from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles – Boston LLC v. Juarez (2015) 240 Cal. App. 4th Supp. 28 – awarded a landlord judgment for possession following the failure of a tenant to cure a “material” term of the lease. The term required the tenant to obtain insurance for the tenant’s benefit. This might otherwise seem like a trivial breach, but the lease agreement contained a forfeiture provision stating that any breach was a material breach.

In hazarding its interpretation of the materiality of the provision, the Appellate Division noted another Appellate Division case, NIVO 1 LLC v. Antunez (2013) 217 Cal. App. 4th Supp. 1, urging that some breaches of lease agreements are immaterial and will not result in forfeiture allowing a landlord to recover possession in an unlawful detainer action.

It nonetheless exalted the “forfeiture clause” in determining that the requirement of obtaining renters insurance could constitute a lawful covenant of the lease, the breach of which could be considered material.

Dissenting Judge Kumar was the first to jump on the rigidity of this thinking, in noting that the majority’s acceptance of the forfeiture clause at face value – that is, that any breach is a material breach – essentially takes away the question of materiality from the finder of fact, who is supposed to determine whether a particular breach is sufficient to support an eviction. (He also commented on the fact that Juarez cured the breach in seven days, which was pretty close to three days… although, this effort to mitigate the forfeiture is much less persuasive.)

Ultimately, the Second District Court of Appeal in Boston LLC v. Juarez (2016) 245 Cal. App. 4th 75 agreed with the reasoning in Judge Kumar’s dissent and the NIVO 1, LLC opinion, finding that the violation of lease provisions amounted to “breach” but that only “material breaches” can support an eviction, whereas trivial breaches would only justify nominal damages

The Court of Appeal acknowledged the importance of a parties’ freedom to contract, which justified the Appellate Division opinion, but it noted that freedom to contract is limited by public policy, like a rent ordinance, citing to the seminal Supreme Court case Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 625 for the notion that disparate bargaining power in urban residential leases justifies the primacy of the public policy of the rent ordinance over inconsistent lease provisions. (Or, in other words, a lease term is not “material” merely because the lease says so.)


Division Four Disagrees with Delta Imports: Could Borsuk Lead to the Death of the Delta Motion?

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“The question is whether the tenant may challenge the landlord’s alleged failure to comply with this requirement by moving to quash service of summons under section 418.10. We conclude that the tenant may not, and in doing so we disagree with the leading case on the point, Delta [Imports v. Municipal Court].”

On November 23, 2015, Division Four of the Second Appellate District interpreted a long-standing doctrinal procedure for attacking an unlawful detainer complaint: Borsuk v. Appellate Division of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (2015) 242 Cal.App.4th 607 has the potential to eliminate the “Delta Motion” and change how unlawful detainer actions are litigated.

Continue reading Division Four Disagrees with Delta Imports: Could Borsuk Lead to the Death of the Delta Motion?


Parties in Boston, LLC v. Juarez Go To Trial Over Curable Breach; Appellate Division of Los Angeles Superior Court Praises Plaintiff for Being “Technically Correct”.

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“Given the statutory basis of unlawful detainer law, parties must comply with the statutes, including the time periods specified therein, with exactitude”.

In Boston, LLC v. Juarez (2015) 240 Cal. App. 4th Supp. 28, the Appellate Division of the Los Angeles Superior Court explores the application of a “forfeiture clause” in a residential lease.

Defendant Juan Juarez was a tenant of a residential unit covered by the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, who first moved in under a 1999 lease. That lease had two provisions relevant to the dispute: one required that he obtain renters insurance (which he didn’t do). Another stated that all lease covenants were “material”. (This means that instead of having a jury decide the materiality of a breach, the court can just decide – yes or no – if there was a breach.)

There are several important defenses available in an unlawful detainer action based on breach of a lease covenant. (For example, where the defendant had been in possession for a decade and a half, waiver is the most obvious choice.) And, while this lease also had an anti-waiver clause, the court declined to explore waiver of the anti-waiver clause, as the defendant had not adequately preserved the argument for appeal.

The court did opine that “unconscionability/adhesion” might have been an effective defense, were it raised. But then it moved on to explain how interpretation of statutes and contracts are a matter of law, how clear and explicit lease provisions govern, and how, if a lease has a “forfeiture clause”, the materiality of the breach is irrelevant. The dispute becomes a binary issue of law: did the defendant breach the provision or not.

The defendant’s main defense concerned substantial performance: where the breached provision of the lease required him to obtain renters insurance, and he obtained it seven days after receiving a three day notice, that should be considered “close enough” to cure the notice. The appellate division correctly pointed out that “substantial compliance” would only be relevant in measuring performance in the context of an uncurable breach (unlike this provision, where he easily could have obtained renters insurance within the three day notice period). Moreover, there is no basis in law to suggest that a tenant is allowed to comply with a three day notice in seven days, as this would somewhat defeat the point of having a statutory time period for unlawful detainer notices.

Boston, LLC v. Juarez will be satisfying for those who have had the frustrating experience of being technically correct but advised against proceeding on the merits. Given the cost of litigation and the chance of losing, this kind of case most often results in a private settlement agreement where the tenant does better than a complete forfeiture of their rights. Further, a tenant can generally obtain relief from forfeiture – even after an adverse judgment – if they are capable of curing the breach and making the plaintiff whole. Where this tenant actually had cured the breach (and before he even had to respond to the complaint), it is unusual that this case would have fully litigated.

In San Francisco, this outcome is all the less likely, following the new Jane Kim Amendment to the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. The Rent Ordinance now requires that, where a lawsuit is based on violation of a lease covenant, the violation must be “substantial”. This would likely thrust such a controversy back into the purview of a jury, “forfeiture clause” notwithstanding. At the very least, Boston, LLC v. Juarez tells us definitively that a three day notice is not a seven day notice (unless of course you serve it on the Monday before Thanksgiving).


Doll v. Ghaffari and the Duality of the Unlawful Detainer Judgment and a Leasehold Estate in the Context of the Litigation Privilege

In an unpublished decision, the Second Appellate District explores the litigation privilege in the context of an unusual appellate reversal of an unlawful detainer judgment.

An unlawful detainer judgment has two parts – possession of the property and incidental monetary damages. Generally, the service of a termination notice, the filing of an unlawful detainer action an even the enforcement of the judgment and other post-judgment activities are all protected by the litigation privilege (Cal. Civ., §47) from being the subject of subsequent lawsuits. (You generally cannot sue someone for suing you.)

One basis for terminating a tenancy under California law is that the tenant is engaging in illegal activity. However, the illegal activity must have some connection to the use of the property. (For instance, a tenant probably cannot be evicted for embezzling or robbing a liquor store, but they could be evicted for selling illegal drugs or discharging a firearm from within an apartment.)

In Doll v. Ghaffari, the tenant was subletting her apartment at a profit, in violation of a Santa Monica rent ordinance provision concerning maximum allowable rent for subtenants. However, to terminate a tenancy for illegal use, the Santa Monica rent ordinance adds an additional requirement that a tenant must actually be criminally convicted of the violation before a landlord can bring an unlawful detainer action. (While it is generally understood that cities can monitor the bases for evictions, the court suggested that the “conviction requirement” may be an impermissible prerequisite to an unlawful detainer in violation of Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Cal.3d 129.)

The landlord, Ghaffari, prosecuted an unlawful detainer based on illegal short-term rental use and won at the trial level. Ghaffari thereafter enforced the unlawful detainer judgment and recovered possession, eventually auctioning Doll’s personal property that was left behind. Doll appealed and the judgment was reversed, but she was not restored to possession under Cal. Code Civ. Proc., §908, upon a finding of unclean hands.

Doll then sued for, among other things, breach of contract, wrongful eviction/trespass and elder abuse for the selling of her property, prevailing on her claims for breach of contract, wrongful eviction, elder abuse, etc.

On appeal, the court found that the landlord’s activities in terminating the tenancy, recovering possession of the apartment and even in selling the property, post-judgment, were all covered by the litigation privilege, citing to Feldman v. 1100 Park Lane Associates (2008) 160 Cal.App.4th 1467, Action Apartment Assn. v. City of Santa Monica (2007) 41 Cal.4th 1232 and Rusheen v. Cohen (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1048. It therefore reversed the verdict as to the claims based on dispossession and the selling of her personal property.

Doll asserted that the case Chacon v. Litke (2010) 181 Cal.App.4th 1234 stood for the proposition that post-trial enforcement activities are not protected. However, the Court of Appeals noted that Chacon merely stood for the proposition that an unlawful detainer judgment did not forfeit a tenant’s right to reoccupy following a non-fault eviction, where a local rent ordinance reserved a right to reoccupancy.

However, in affirming her contract claims, the court relied on Munoz v. MacMillan (2011) 195 Cal.App.4th 648 to conclude that a tenant may sue on contract claims for a terminated lease agreement, where the unlawful detainer action that terminated the lease is later reversed on appeal. (It noted, however, that Munoz did not reference the litigation privilege or Action Apartments.)

Doll v. Ghaffari provides an interesting review of the duality of the unlawful detainer judgment – as consisting of a right to possession and for incidental money damages – and the duality of a leasehold estate – as consisting of a contractual right and an interest in land – while navigating the litigation privilege. Here, the tenant prevailed on the money damage issue in the underlying unlawful detainer action, while asserting her contract rights under the leasehold, but lost on the issue of her interest in land and being restored to possession. That said, this case is currently unpublished, and, as the court noted, Munoz did not address the litigation privilege (relying, instead, on a case from 1917). So California courts may come to a different conclusion the next time it reviews a similar series of lawsuits.


Evidentiary Presumption in Berkeley Rent Ordinance Punishes Landlords Who Fake Owner Move-Ins

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“The label placed by the parties on their relationship is not dispositive, and subterfuges are not countenanced.”

In Mak v. City of Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board (2015) 240 Cal. App. 4th 60, the First District Court of Appeals discusses what happens when a landlord coerces a tenant to enter an agreement that contravenes city law governing owner move-in evictions.

Under Berkeley law, a landlord cannot terminate a tenancy other than for “just cause”. Rental units are also rent-controlled, except to the extent that they are deregulated by state law (i.e., Costa-Hawkins). And, while a landlord can terminate a tenancy if they intend to reside in the rental unit for 36 months (under the owner move-in provisions of Section 13.76.130A.9 of the Berkeley Rent Ordinance), this does not result in a decontrolling of the unit for the next tenancy (under Costa-Hawkins) if/when the unit is put back on the rental market (as a result of Berkeley Regulation 1016). In other words, it’s fine if you want to live in your property, but you don’t get the benefit of market rent if you move afterward.

The court in Mak evaluated the rent-controlled status of a tenancy in the context of Regulation 1016. Elizabeth Burns was the long-term tenant of a unit owned by Jason and Karen Mak. The Maks served an Owner Move-In (“OMI”) notice (pursuant to Cal. Civ., §1946.1 and Section 13.76.130A.9) on Burns, but then negotiated for her to move out in an agreement where she stated that the vacating was not because of the OMI notice, reciting that she was aware that the Maks could move in, sell, or re-rent at market rates.

No longer bound, in their minds, by the OMI restrictions, the Maks immediately re-rented to Alexander and Andrea Ziem, who ultimately brought a petition for determination of lawful rent, on the theory that the unit was still controlled at the previous rate, as Regulation 1016 creates an evidentiary presumption that, where a tenant vacates within a year after an OMI notice, they vacated because of the OMI notice.

The Maks argued against this position, relying on their agreement with Burns. They also asserted that Regulation 1016 was invalid to the extent it imposed vacancy control under Bullard v. San Francisco Residential Rent Stabilization Bd. (2003) 106 Cal.App.4th 488, which invalidated a provision of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance requiring landlords displacing tenants with an OMI notice to offer a “comparable unit” at the existing rent of the displaced tenant. (While Costa-Hawkins allows local agencies to monitor the bases for eviction, and this can sometimes include imposing rent ceilings following an eviction, this did not extend to the imposition of rent controls on a unit that was not the subject of the eviction. The court found this to accord with Palmer/Sixth Street Properties, L.P. v. City of Los Angeles (2009) 175 Cal.App.4th 1396, which invalidated the imposition of rent controls on new development by requiring a certain number of affordable units at regulated rental levels.)

The court was unconvinced by the Maks’ “subterfuge”. It distinguished Bullard, noting that, while regulating “comparable units” was a weak deterrent to avoid bad faith OMIs, Regulation 1016 was focused precisely on deterring the kind of conduct that would allow landlords to use threats of an OMI to cause a tenant to vacate a unit, in a manner that would avoid any of the restrictions imposed by the OMI provisions. The Ziems received a windfall here, but Regulation 1016 is designed to deter conduct, not necessarily protect the rent-controlled tenant.


Will the California Court of Appeals Reconsider Delta Imports and the Delta Motion

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This week, the Appellate Division for the Superior Court in the County of Los Angeles found that Delta Imports as interpreted by Parsons means that an unlawful detainer defendant can challenge personal jurisdiction on the basis that an unlawful detainer complaint fails to state a cause of action for unlawful detainer through the introduction of extrinsic evidence. (If you think that sounds wordy, you should read a Delta motion sometime.)

The ruling in Borsuk v. Superior Court (La Hillcreste Apartments, LLC) is not novel. But the politic concurrence, by Acting Presiding Judge Kumar, is rallying. Acknowledging the deference the Appellate Division must pay to the Courts of Appeal (particularly, decisions by its own Second District, like Delta Imports), he agreed with the majority that a trial court must consider extrinsic evidence about service of the requisite notice to an unlawful detainer action in evaluating the sufficiency of its ability to state a cause of action and its worthiness of the unique unlawful detainer five-day summons.

Even Judge Kumar thought this reasoning wasn’t absurd: “The apparent thought process behind cloaking the notice requirement with jurisdictional ramifications is this: if there is no valid three-day notice, the summons corresponding to the complaint is necessarily invalid because the truncated time for an answer provided therein is conditioned on a valid three-day notice.” He simply asserted that, in allowing a jurisdictional challenge to test the sufficiency of a cause of action, “Delta expanded the traditional scope of a motion to quash”.

Delta stressed that it would moot the point of a jurisdictional challenge if a tenant were required to challenge the cause of action for unlawful detainer on demurrer – a general appearance in the action. The tenant should be able to specially appear and challenge jurisdiction.

However, Judge Kumar reasoned that, “If the defendant was not properly served with the precedent three-day notice, the summons remains facially valid. As the three-day notice is an element of the unlawful detainer action, a challenge to it, like a challenge to any other element of the cause of action, should be directed to the legitimacy of the complaint, not the validity of the service of the summons.”

He closed by issuing an open invitation for “a court higher than the appellate division” to revisit the matter. The Delta motion is one of the more peculiar features of unlawful detainer law, and reform would straighten out what is supposed to be a simplified and summary proceeding for recovery of possession of real property. On the other hand, this doctrine is over three decades old, and higher courts have had no shortage of opportunities to spill ink on this issue.


Horne v. Department of Agriculture: No More Taking Raisins Without Just Compensation


This week, the United States Supreme Court found that the United States Department of Agriculture could not take a portion of California raising growers’ crop for a market stabilization program without paying just compensation under the Takings Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Hornes, California raising growers, were required to set aside a portion of their crop under the Department of Agriculture’s “marketing order”. The marketing order called for raisin growers to set aside as much as 47% of their crop in a particular year. These raisins would then be allocated to best stabilize the market. If they were sold, profits would be returned to the Hornes. But often, the raisins were just given away.

The Hornes argued that the reserve requirement constituted a taking of their property, for which the Constitution requires just compensation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, but on the basis that it was an unconstitutional condition, where the government “imposed a condition (the reserve requirement) in exchange for a Government benefit (an orderly raisin market)”. This doctrine emerged out of land-use cases, where local governments have significant discretionary authority over authorizing permits and can condition the granting of a permit on certain conditions, so long as the conditions have a “rough proportionality” to and “essential nexus” with the impact of a proposed development. If they do not, the condition is an unconstitutional taking.

The application of this doctrine to the raisin reserve requirement feels a bit forced (as it did in the recent decision of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, concerning enhanced relocation payments for tenants displaced by the Ellis Act). The allocation of personal property for a broader public purpose is a deprivation of rights, and this doctrine – mixed with some analytical gymnastics to find the existence of a discretionary benefit – allows recourse for the property owner.

The Supreme Court streamlined the takings analysis by expanding the application of “per se taking” jurisprudence to personal property: “Nothing in the text or history of the Takings Clause, or our precedents, suggests that the [per se] rule is any different when it comes to appropriation of personal property. The Government has a categorical duty to pay just compensation when it takes your car, just as when it takes your home.”


Inclusionary Housing Ordinance Prevails over Takings Challenge in CBIA v. City of San Jose


“As a general matter, so long as a land use restriction or regulation bears a reasonable relationship to the public welfare, the restriction or regulation is constitutionally permissible.”

In California Building Industry Association v. City of San Jose, the California Supreme Court upheld the City of San Jose’s inclusionary housing ordinance against a takings challenge.

The inclusionary housing ordinance imposed a citywide requirement that developers commit 15% of new units to price limits: they must be sold as “affordable units” to lower income purchasers. (Alternatively, developers could avail themselves of alternatives for compliance, like building a greater number of units off-site or paying an “in lieu fee” for the city’s affordable housing fund.)

Generally, economic/land use regulations are given deference by the courts, where “a party challenging the facial validity of a legislative land use measure ordinarily bears the burden of demonstrating that the measure lacks a reasonable relationship to the public welfare”. Courts will find these regulations constitutional so long as they have a real and substantial relationship to the public welfare and are not “confiscatory”.

The California Building Industry Association urged the court to adopt a heightened standard of judicial review. If the city of San Jose conditioned the granting of permits upon the exacting of a benefit unrelated to mitigation of the harm inflicted by the proposed development, it would constitute an unconstitutional condition and a taking of property without just compensation.

The California Supreme Court found that the inclusionary housing price limits fell within the “municipalities’ general broad discretion to regulate the use of real property to serve the legitimate interests of the general public and the community at large”. It found that the inclusionary housing ordinance did not constitute an “exaction” – where a city conditions discretionary approval upon the surrendering of a property right, unrelated to the project, in a manner that would, on its own, constitute a taking of property.

While the ordinance required developers to, e.g., commit certain units to under market prices, the court found that this manner of price constraints was similar to many other, constitutional applications of police power affecting pricing and profitability, like zoning particular types of businesses, imposing height and density restrictions, and and instituting rent control.

On the subject of rent control, the court took note of an interesting provision of the inclusionary housing ordinance that applied to newly constructed residential units. In Palmer/Sixth St. Properties, L.P. v. City of Los Angeles, the Second District Court of Appeals found that the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act preempted a Los Angeles inclusionary housing ordinance that required a certain portion of newly constructed rental units to be offered below market, as affordable housing units. The San Jose City Council, aware of Palmer, included a similar provision, but made it self-executing in the event that the case was judicially overturned or the law was legislatively modified.