Facts: A landlord enters into a month-to-month rental agreement with a tenant. After taking possession, the tenant discovers the property is in an uninhabitable condition and performs repairs, requesting reimbursement. The landlord does not provide reimbursement. When the next monthly payment is due, the tenant withholds the cost of the repairs from their rental fees. The tenant also reports the property’s condition to the city and, after an inspection, the city issues a code enforcement letter to the landlord.

In response, the landlord serves the tenant at mid-month with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit for the withheld rental fees concurrent with a 30-day notice to vacate to terminate the periodic tenancy. The tenant tenders payment of the withheld rental fees due under the three-day notice, bringing the rent current, and disregards the 30-day notice to vacate.

At the beginning of the next month, the tenant attempts to make a full rental payment for the subsequent month. The landlord refuses payment and serves the tenant with a second three-day notice to pay rent or quit, demanding rental fees for only the half month of tenancy remaining under the belief the 30-day notice had terminated the tenancy at mid-month. The tenant does not pay the requested fee and remains in possession.

Claim: The landlord seeks possession of the property through an unlawful detainer (UD) action, claiming the tenant’s right to possession was terminated since the landlord served the tenant with a three-day notice to pay rent or quit for half of the last month’s rent and the tenant remained in possession without paying the requested amount.

Counter claim: The tenant claims the landlord is not entitled to possession since the tenant paid all amounts due and the landlord rejected the payment in retaliation, thus the landlord cannot use nonpayment as the basis for a UD action.

Holding: A California Superior Court held the landlord was not entitled to evict the tenant through a UD action since the tenant timely paid all amounts due the landlord and the landlord’s eviction efforts were retaliatory. [Boyd v. Carter (June 9, 2014)_CA4th_]

Editor’s note — Additional issues are present in this case but were not explicitly ruled upon by the court, such as the landlord’s breach of the warranty of habitability.

Here, the court held a landlord’s conduct is a critical factor in a UD action and needs to be considered when a landlord seeks possession from a tenant. In this case, the landlord failed to maintain the property in a habitable condition, prompting the tenant to request an inspection from the city. The landlord was sent a code enforcement letter and subsequently served the tenant with a 30-day notice to vacate.

The court determined a landlord’s breach of the warranty of habitability bars them from collecting rental fees or reclaiming possession of the property from a breaching tenant since the landlord failed to fulfill duties owed the tenant.

Additionally, the landlord attempted to evict the tenant in retaliation after the tenant reported the property’s condition to the city, interfering with the tenant’s right to report uninhabitable conditions on the property.

Thus, even if the tenant in this case was in default on their rental payments, the landlord’s conduct and breach would have likely barred them from obtaining possession and payment from the tenant.

For an in-depth discussion about the concepts discussed in this case, see Volume 4 of the first tuesday Realtipedia, Real Estate Property Management (Chapter 26: Three day notices to quit; Chapter 29: Notices to vacate; Chapter 34: Retaliatory eviction defense; and Chapter 37: Implied warranty of habitability). [See first tuesday Form 569, 575 and 575-1]