You Can’t Always Trust Your Landlord
1. Landlord Found to be Unreasonable and Acted in Bad Faith
In the case of Bawa v. Terhune(2019), 33 Cal.App.5thSupp. 1, the Court of Appeal determined that the landlord’s refusal to accept the rental payment from the tenant (which was one penny short) was evidence of an intent to manufacture a default, allowing it to evict the tenant. The court determined that the tenant could affirmatively plead as a defense, that the landlord acted in an unreasonable and bad faith manner, which was a valid defense to the unlawful detainer action.
In this case, the tenant paid the rent of $507.60. The rent that was actually due was $507.61. The manager returned the check, stating that the rent amount was incorrect by one penny. The landlord then served a three-day notice to pay rent or quit. After the three-day period elapsed, the landlord filed a lawsuit to evict the tenant. In the interim, tenant had sent two rental checks, the first for $507.61, and the second one five days later for $519.86. The landlord deposited neither.
At the jury trial, the landlord argued that the tenant had a duty to retender his rent after service of the three-day notice. California law does not support that argument. The Court of Appeal cited case law, instructing that a “trivial” or “de minimis” breach of the rental obligation does not support a tenant’s eviction (33 Cal.App.5thSupp. at page 9).
Comment: Obviously, this is a rent-controlled jurisdiction in Los Angeles. The tenant was only paying $507 in rent. There would be no other reason for the case to go all the way through a jury trial and then to be appealed to the appellate court, which wrote an opinion. The landlord really wanted to evict this tenant and raise the rent to market rent, which was probably at least triple, if not more, what the landlord was receiving from this tenant.
With the California legislature voting shortly to impose statewide rent control that will prevent rent to be increased by more than seven percent (7%) per year, plus inflation, it is only a matter of time for all tenants to enjoy subsidized rent from those “greedy” landlords. The sad commentary is that things are only going to get worse, if you are a landlord, and only better if you are a tenant.
About the Author
Scott Souders is a real estate attorney who has practiced real estate law in excess of 42 years in Southern California. The Real Estate Law Update cites cases or statutes which are summarized and should not be relied upon without fully reading the cases or statute in the advance sheets and shepardizing the same and consulting with your own attorney.