3x Months’ Rent Awarded Due to Landlord’s Failure to Upkeep Walking Trails and Common Areas
After finding breaches of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, seven individual plaintiffs were each awarded two separate awards of three months’ rent to each household. However, one of the each rent award must be removed.
In December 1997, the defendant purchased Leisure Woods Estates, a complex made up of 152 individually-owned manufactured homes. Residents pay monthly lot rent for their place. In November 2009, the plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that the defendant failed to provide maintenance for the home sites, shared spaces, and roads.
After a three-day jury-waived trial, a Housing Court judge entered a judgment in favor of plaintiffs representing seven households. The judge found finding a breach of the implied warranty of habitability with respect to the condition of the roads, interference with the plaintiffs’ quiet enjoyment of common walking trails, and separate and distinct breaches of the covenant of quiet enjoyment with respect to the conditions of the seven individual home sites. The judge awarded injunctive relief and monetary damages for these violations.
Under G. L. c. 186, § 14 (§ 14), the Housing Court judge entered awards of three months’ rent, as well as other injunctive relief and monetary damages for the breaches of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. These plaintiffs were also awarded a 20 percent rent deduction, “tripled under G. L. c. 93A (c. 93A), and the Attorney General’s regulations promulgated thereunder, for the breach of the warranty of habitability.” The award for each household was $13,010.40, for a total of $91,027.80, plus attorney’s fees and costs.
In an appeal hearing, the defendant argues that the judge made a mistake in awarding multiple triple rent damage awards under § 14 for separate breaches of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, in applying the warranty of habitability to potholes and accumulations of ice and snow on the roads, and in excluding the testimony of a ‘vital witness’ for the defendant who did not arrive in court until after the close of the evidence. Therefore, the Appeals Court decision vacated removed one of the triple rent damages awards as duplicative, but otherwise acknowledged the judgment.
“The usual measure of damages for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment is lost rental value, that is, “the difference between the value of what the lessee should have received and the value of what he did receive.” Darmetko v. Boston Hous. Authy., 378 Mass. 758, 761 n.4 (1979) (Darmetko). Section 14, however, allows tenants to recover ‘actual and consequential damages.’ G. L. c. 186, § 14, as appearing in St. 1991, c. 481, § 22. This provision ‘was intended to expand the damages recoverable for breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment,’ allowing tenants to be compensated for ‘all reasonably foreseeable losses — personal as well as economic — within the scope of statutory recovery.’ Simon v. Solomon, 385 Mass. 91, 112113 (1982) (Simon). Accordingly, the plaintiffs were entitled to recover for all such losses attributable to the defendant’s interference with their use of the walking trails and its failure to repair the decaying infrastructure of their housing location…
“The judge’s award here is inconsistent with the language in Simon, supra, that says only one triple rent award is available in a single proceeding under § 14, no matter how many ways the landlord interferes with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment… The plaintiffs might have shown that the defendant’s interference with the quiet enjoyment of their homes and the grounds of Leisure Woods caused them damages in excess of three months’ rent, and recovered damages in an amount so shown. However, because the plaintiffs did not or could not prove extensive actual and consequential damages, § 14 provided them minimum damages equal to three months’ rent (as well as costs and attorney’s fees) — but only one triple rent award in a single proceeding.”
The Housing Court judge found that “[t]he extensive pot holes and unattended accumulation of snow and ice constitute[d] a breach of the warranty of habitability. The judge further found that the violation was willful and knowing: ‘[t]he defendant knew of, and recklessly disregarded the need to, repair, plow, and sand [Leisure Woods’s] roads.’ Accordingly, he tripled the plaintiffs’ damages amount under G. L. c. 93A.”
The Appeals Court upheld that decision; “As the failure to comply with the regulations amounts to an unfair or deceptive act or practice in violation of c. 93A, see 940 Code Mass. Regs. § 10.02(3) (1996), and the judge found the defendant’s violations to be willful and knowing; the judge did not make a mistake or abuse his discretion in awarding treble damages.
“Moreover, if the defendant persists to violate § 14, the plaintiffs may return to court. “If new violations arise after the initial suit is filed, the tenant may recover triple rent in a new proceeding.” Simon, 385 Mass. at 111.”
Clark, et al. v. Leisure Woods Estates, Inc. (Appeals Court) Case heard by Fields, J., in Housing Court. (Docket No. 15P366) (Feb. 23, 2016).
If you are having problems with your landlord, please contact Doubleday Law today.
[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]