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Property Law Legal Research Blog

Landlord Tenant/Constructive Eviction and Breach of Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Thu, Jun 25, 2020 @ 11:06 AM

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     An unreported mid-level appellate decision by a Pennsylvania Superior Court illustrates that courts take a dim view to a residential landlord's attempt to defend against breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment and constructive conviction claims against him or her by a tenant by asserting that the parties' dispute stemmed from a good-faith mistake or misunderstanding. In Grodin v. Farr, No. 45 WDA 2019, 2020 WL 919200 (Pa. Super. Ct. Feb. 26, 2020) (nonprecedential decision), the court rejected a landlord's claim that he did not breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment or constructively evict his tenants by changing the locks on their unit because he mistakenly assumed that the tenants had received a key to the back door from the previous tenants and could still gain access to the leased premises.

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Topics: property law, landlord-tenant, D. Bradley Pettit, breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment, good-faith mistake, constructive eviction

Court Requires Cemetery to Remove a Decedent Mistakenly Buried in Plaintiff's Gravesite

Posted by Alistair D. Edwards on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 @ 12:04 PM

Alistair Edwards—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

     It is not uncommon for an individual to purchase a specific cemetery gravesite or gravesites many years in advance with the plan for family members to all be buried in the same area. That was the exact plan of the plaintiff, Kathy Salyer. In 1982, after the death of her first husband, Salyer purchased four contiguous gravesites in the cemetery comprising lot 14. Later that year, Salyer purchased an additional gravesite (Gravesite 15) contiguous to lot 14. Salyer possessed a Certificate of Ownership for each purchase. Salyer intended to bury her mother in Gravesite 15 and to have herself buried in the empty site between her first and second husbands. Despite Salyer's plan, she discovered in 2014 that a stranger, Mr. Johnson, had been buried in Gravesite 15. The cemetery acknowledged that it had made a mistake and had sold Gravesite 15 twice, first to Salyer and then to Mr. Johnson's family. Salyer's purchase of Gravesite 15 had not been entered in the cemetery's records, causing the cemetery's sale agent to sell the site twice.

     Salyer filed an action against the cemetery, seeking an order to have the cemetery reinter the decedent, Mr. Johnson, who had been mistakenly buried in the gravesite. Mr. Johnson's daughter intervened in the action, objecting to the removal of her father's body from the gravesite.

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Topics: Alistair Edwards, property law, wrongful burial statute, cemetery plot, wrongful interment

PROPERTY: When Partition by Division of Sale Proceeds Is Appropriate

Posted by Matthew T. McDavitt on Fri, Dec 20, 2019 @ 09:12 AM

Matthew McDavitt—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Any co-owner possessing an interest in realty has a right, under common and/or statutory law, to the partition of such realty, as no owner may be forced to remain in co-ownership. Physical partition is preferred and should be made where such realty may be divided without substantial prejudice to the other co-owners. Partition may be made over the objections of the other co-owners, and the fact that the other owners possess property or use interests cannot prevent partition. Fesmire v. Digh, 385 S.C. 296, 683 S.E.2d 803 (Ct. App. 2009).

            In some states, if the realty sought to be partitioned constitutes an owner's constitutionally or statutorily protected homestead, then such homestead status is an affirmative defense to partition, see Morris v. Figueroa, 830 So. 2d 692 (Miss. Ct. App. 2002); conversely, other jurisdictions hold that a cotenant's homestead interest in the property does not preclude partition, premised upon the absolute right of co-owners to exit co-ownership at will, see Wisner v. Pavlin, 2006 SD 64, 719 N.W.2d 770.

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Topics: Matthew T. McDavitt, partition of property, division of sale proceeds

Barking Dogs Results in Competing Nuisance Claims Between Neighbors

Posted by Alistair D. Edwards on Fri, Aug 2, 2019 @ 11:08 AM

Alistair Edwards—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Dogs barking incessantly can result in a nuisance lawsuit between neighbors. For example, in Allen v. Powers, 64 Misc. 3d 171, 97 N.Y.S.3d 837 (City Ct. 2019), the plaintiff sued her neighbors claiming that their two German Shepherds barked incessantly and the dogs' constant barking at all hours interfered with the plaintiff’s right to quiet use and enjoyment of her property. This was a classic private nuisance claim.

            However, the interesting twist in that case was that the defendant dog owners counterclaimed, contending that the plaintiff had repeatedly called the municipal authorities with specious complaints. As alleged in the counterclaim, the plaintiff’s efforts were an attempt to make the defendants move or have their landlord evict them.

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Topics: property law, Alistair D. Edwards, nuisance claim, barking dogs, counterclaim for harassment

Do Short-Term Vacation Rentals Violate Covenant Prohibiting Commercial Activity or Use?

Posted by Alistair D. Edwards on Tue, Oct 16, 2018 @ 11:10 AM

Alistair Edwards—Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            Short-term vacation rentals have become increasingly popular and easier to obtain with the advent of websites such as Airbnb. Now, an owner can simply use such a website to attract potential renters and lease the property to vacationers on a very short-term basis. Some of these rentals can be as short as a one- or two-day rental. However, owners of residential properties that are subject to restrictive covenants are often prohibited from using their properties for commercial activities, uses, or purposes. Does this include renting the property to vacationers on a short-term basis?

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Topics: property law, short-term vacation rental, commercial activity use, restrictive covenant

LANDLORD TENANT: Can a Tenant Use the Exclusionary Rule When Fighting an Eviction?

Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Tue, Jul 17, 2018 @ 09:07 AM

Steven G. FriedmanCSenior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

 

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons or property. See U.S. Const., amend. IV. The exclusionary rule prohibits the use of evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment. See United States v. Calandra, 414 U.S. 338, 347 (1974). However, the exclusionary rule does not apply to all proceedings or against all persons and is generally restricted to areas in which the goal of deterring unlawful police conduct is "most efficaciously served." Id. at 348. In determining whether the exclusionary rule applies, the U.S. Supreme Court has developed a balancing test whereby courts weigh the likely social benefits of excluding unlawfully obtained evidence against the possible costs. See INS v. Lopez‑Mendoza, 468 U.S. 1032, 1041 (1984).

 

Typically, the exclusionary rule has been confined to cases in which the state seeks to use illegally seized evidence to criminally prosecute an individual who experienced an unlawful search. See Calandra, 414 U.S. at 347; e.g., id. at 354. The exclusionary rule is occasionally applied outside of a pure criminal proceeding, however. For instance, the Minnesota Supreme Court has held that the exclusionary rule applies to a civil forfeiture action, see Garcia‑Mendoza v. 2003 Chevy Tahoe, 852 N.W.2d 659, 667 (Minn. 2014), as well as a civil implied‑consent proceeding, see Ascher v. Comm'r of Pub. Safety, 527 N.W.2d 122, 125 (Minn. App. 1995), review denied (Minn. Mar. 21, 1995); see also State v. Lemmer, 736 N.W.2d 650, 654 (Minn. 2007) (revocation of a driver's license after a DWI arrest).

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Topics: property, exclusionary rule, eviction, civil forfeiture

Landlords' Liability to Guest of Tenant for Dog Bite Injury

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Wed, May 9, 2018 @ 10:05 AM

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            A decision by the Supreme Court of Idaho illustrates the difficulties that a guest of a residential tenant may face when trying to hold the tenant's landlord liable for injuries sustained by the guest when the guest was bitten by the tenant's dog. See Bright v. Maznik, 162 Idaho 311, 396 P.3d 1193 (2017). In Bright, a guest of the tenants advanced several theories of liability in her suit against the tenants' landlords: negligence per se under Idaho's vicious dog statute, breach of duty to protect the guest from an animal known to have vicious tendencies, common law negligence, voluntary assumption of duty, and premises liability. None of these claims were successful, primarily because the plaintiff failed to make the requisite factual showings that the landlords either "knew" about or "harbored" a vicious animal on the premises.

            For example, the Bright court found that the landlords could not be charged with "harboring" the tenants' dog on the property, as required under the vicious dog statute, regardless of whether the dog was actually "vicious." Id., 396 P.3d at 1197. The Bright court reasoned that since the term "harbor," as it is used in the vicious dog statute, "contemplates protecting an animal, or undertaking to control its actions," the landlords could not be charged with negligence per se under the statute because there was no evidence in the record that the landlords "received clandestinely and concealed the [tenants'] dog" or "had an animal in [their] keeping." Id. (citations omitted).

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Topics: property, landlord liability, dog bite injury, guest of tenant

Construction of Structure Blocking a Neighbor’s View Not a Nuisance

Posted by Alistair D. Edwards on Fri, Feb 16, 2018 @ 16:02 PM

     The general rule is that a landowner has no common law right to an unobstructed view over an adjoining property. Thus, if a neighbor erects a structure on his property that blocks another neighbor’s view from his property, this likely does not constitute an actionable nuisance or give the neighbor any other type of claim. Absent an express easement or covenant, this right to an unobstructed view generally does not exist. "In the absence of statute, generally, a landowner may, by building on his or her own land, deprive the adjoining owner of the light, air, and view of which the owner was the recipient before the structure was erected without inflicting a legal injury by such obstruction." 2 C.J.S. Adjoining Landowners § 28 (Westlaw database updated December 2017). 

      For example, in Ceynar v. Barth, 2017 ND 286, 904 N.W.2d 469, the North Dakota Supreme Court recently considered a nuisance action brought by a homeowner against his neighbor (and the homeowner’s association) after the neighbor constructed a pool house on his property which obstructed the neighbor’s view. The pool house blocked the homeowner’s view of a golf course and very likely reduced the market value of the home. In affirming the trial court’s grant of summary judgment to the defendant neighbor, the court relied mainly on California precedent and stated that "[j]ust as traditional American property law fails to protect access to light over neighboring land, in the absence of an express easement or covenant, advantageous views are unprotected." Id. ¶ 26, 904 N.W.2d at 476. The court further explained:  "Because the Ceynars [plaintiffs] have no cognizable right to an unobstructed view from their property, Barth's [defendant] construction of the pool house as a matter of law did not unreasonably interfere with the Ceynars' use and enjoyment of their property." Id. ¶ 28, 904 N.W.2d at 478; see also Wolford v. Thomas, 190 Cal. App. 3d 347, 356, 235 Cal. Rptr. 422, 427 (1987) ("[A] building or structure does not constitute a nuisance merely because it obstructs the passage of light and air to the adjoining property or obstructs the view from the neighboring property, provided such building or structure does not otherwise constitute a nuisance.").

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Topics: actionable nuisance, homeowner's association, lawful structure, adjoining landowners

Expansion of Easements by Necessity in Virginia

Posted by Steven G. Friedman on Mon, Dec 18, 2017 @ 10:12 AM

Steve Friedman, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group

            "An easement is the privilege to use the land of another in a particular manner and for a particular purpose, but it does not give the owner of the dominant estate an ownership interest in the servient tract." Beach v. Turim, 287 Va. 223, 228, 754 S.E.2d 295, 297 (2014) (internal quotation marks omitted). "Easements may be created by express grant or reservation, by implication, by estoppel or by prescription." Id.

            Each type of easement is established (and sometimes governed) by a different set of rules. See Palmer v. R.A. Yancey Lumber Corp., 294 Va. 140, 803 S.E.2d 742, 749 (2017) (noting that "express easements and easements by prescription . . . have their own set of rules separate and apart from the rules governing easements by necessity").

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Topics: property, expansion of easement, easements by necessity

Landlord's Liability for Collapsed Deck

Posted by D. Bradley Pettit on Thu, Oct 26, 2017 @ 11:10 AM

Brad Pettit, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group 

            The general rule is that "[w]hile a landlord is not a guarantor for the safety of those persons who might be expected to come upon its property, it does have a duty to make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition."  49 Am. Jur. 2d Landlord and Tenant § 454 (Westlaw May 2017 Update) (citing Rodriguez v. Providence Hous. Auth., 824 A.2d 452 (R.I. 2003)). A recent decision by a Georgia appellate court in a deck collapse case indicates that unless the evidence shows that an out-of-possession lessor of residential real estate knew or had reason to know that a potentially dangerous condition existed with respect to the premises or an improvement thereto, the landlord cannot be held liable for injuries that were suffered by a guest of the tenant due to the alleged failure to repair the premises or to make an improvement. Aldredge v. Byrd, 341 Ga. App. 300, 799 S.E.2d 263 (2017), reconsideration denied (Apr. 26, 2017).

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Topics: property, landlord liability, collapsed deck

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