Monday, October 13, 2014

Foster v. Williams (Cal. App. Div., Sup Ct. - Sept. 9, 2014)

It's Columbus Day!  Which, for many workers, means absolutely nothing.  But in our world, it means that the courts are generally closed.  Which means no opinions.

But while we're thinking about what transpired in 1492 -- five hundred-plus years ago -- maybe we can also file this opinion in the "What will they think in thirty years" department:

CCP 1162 says that when you're evicting someone you've got to give them a three-day notice to pay rent or quit and the notice has to include an "address of the person to whom the rent payment shall be made."  Which is what landlord Jennita Foster did for her Santa Monica tenant Keith Williams.  With the slight complexity that the "address" was a web site (i.e., a URL):

That would make a difference to me if the tenant had made his prior payments by check or in person to the landlord.  It's also make a difference to me if the web site charges the tenant a fee.  'Cause I'm not willing to let the landlord hose a tenant by making it more difficult (or expensive) to respond to a three-day notice than it is to pay the usual rent.

But here, it seems that the tenant always paid his rent (when he paid it) on the web site.  And at least according to the web site the landlord may be paying the relevant $3 fee per transaction (or, perhaps, the lease requires an additional $3 by the tenant in addition to the rent).

If the three-day notice doesn't require the tenant to do anything more than he's already obligated to do and/or routinely does, I don't see why a web address isn't as good as a physical address.

But the Appellate Division holds otherwise.  Concluding that the Legislature, when it passed the relevant statute, was thinking in old school ways, and hence that's what "address" means.

This seems to me form over substance.  Which the law's supposed to disregard.  A web site is indeed an "address".  If there's a reason to define "address" as a physical address, I'm totally for doing so.  In the present case, however, I don't see any such reason.  Tenant could pay.  He didn't.  He should be evicted.  He shouldn't get to stay (effectively rent-free) for even longer because the three-day notice gave him the exact same address to which he'd successfully paid rent every month for nearly a year.

When the tenant didn't pay, it was because he didn't want to (or couldn't), not because there was not an "address" on the three-day notice.  That's not a defense.  Regardless of what "address" meant in the 1950s.