Wednesday, May 06, 2020

California Valley Properties v. Berlfein (Cal. Sup. Ct. App. Div. - March 20, 2020)

Two things are virtually certain to be true about published decisions from the Appellate Division of the Superior Court.  First, they're consistently circulated far later than their "official" publication date; typically, months later.  Second, they're almost always interesting.  You get to see how small-stakes litigation operates.  (And I call it "small stakes" only because of the relative amount of money at issue; for the litigants, the stakes often could not be higher.)

This opinion is about an eviction.  Is the tenant not paying rent?  Nope.  Rent's paid just fine.  But the landlord moves to evict the tenant because a blank in the lease agreement says that the property will be occupied by no more than "1 Adult [and] 1 Children" and now there's another person (a woman) in the apartment?

Was the property sublet?  Nope.  Same main tenant.  Did the landlord not know that there'd be a couple in the property?  Nope.  When the property was first rented to the tenant (in 1998), they filled in the blank with "two adults and one child," since there was a couple living there with their minor child.  But later that year, the couple broke up, and the woman moved out.  So then, in 1999, the landlord had the tenant "update" the blank on the form to say one adult and one child.

The tenant stays in the place for a decade.  In the meantime, he (1) gets married, and (2) the minor child grows up and moves out.  So there were originally three people in the place; a couple and a kid.  Now there's two people in the place:  a couple.

So the landlord files a lawsuit to evict them.  Claiming that the tenant's breached the agreement by occupying the residence with two adults rather than one adult and one child.  Notwithstanding the fact that (1) the original tenancy was for two adults and a kid, and now there's only two adults, and (2) the relevant rules state that a landlord cannot unreasonably hold consent to adding an additional tenant on the lease (and the landlord offers no reason whatsoever why the tenant's wife shouldn't be allowed to live with him).  Plus, for what it's worth, the wife's been in the residence for years, and the landlord's known full well about that (and accepted rent knowing that fact)

Oh, did I mention that the property's rent-stabilized?  And that a new owner bought the place six months ago, and is now trying to kick out the current tenant for having "too many people" in the property originally rented for a three-person occupancy (and currently occupied by two)?

Maybe gives you some insight into what's really going on here?

Fortunately, the trial court and the Appellate Division seem to understand both the equities as well as the law.  The rules say the landlord can't unreasonably withhold consent to an additional tenant, and that's exactly what he's doing here.  The landlord argues that this principal doesn't apply when the tenant doesn't ask for consent in advance (as opposed to after the three-day notice is filed), but the courts reject this argument.  Happily so.  So the guy (and his wife) gets to stay in their apartment.

Which is utter and complete justice, IMHO.

A look inside the trenches on a lazy Wednesday afternoon . . . .