A recent article in Realty Times
poses the following query:
- Suppose a tenant finds him or herself living in a "slumlord" unit. Everything is deteriorated. Unsanitary conditions prevail. What is the tenant's recourse? Is he or she entitled to damages? More specifically, is he or she entitled to damages for emotional distress?
- The answer is "yes" if you live in California's Second Appellate District, where the case of Un Sil McNairy et al. v. C.K. Realty et al. was heard.
In affirming a Los Angeles Superior Court ruling finding a breach of the warranty of habitability and violations of former California Civil Code section 1942.4, subdivision (b)(1) (awarding $5,000 in actual damages, $1,000 in special damages, and $4,000 in punitive damages to each of 20 tenants), the California intermediate appellate court looked to both earlier California cases, as well as cases from Arizona, Oregon, West Virginia and Vermont in support of its decision that the calculation of a tenant's actual damages for being subjected to unsanitary conditions by a landlord includes damages for emotional distress.
Further, the court also ruled that, with two execptions, an additional 84 tenants who were prohibited from testifying during the damage portion of trial should be afforded the opportunity to testify regarding their damages, if any, as a result of the lack of potable water and the cockroach infestation.
The court quoted a 1980 California appellate case for the proposition that a tenant's monetary damages in these circumstances does not necessarily reflect the true nature of his/her actual damages:
- " 'Generally, the residential tenant who has suffered a breach of the warranty does not lose money. He instead cannot bathe as frequently as he would like or at all if there is inadequate hot water; he must worry about rodents harassing his children or spreading disease if the premises are infested; or he must avoid certain rooms or worry about catching a cold if there is inadequate weather protection or heat. Thus discomfort and annoyance are the common injuries caused by each breach and hence the true nature of the general damages the tenant is claiming.' " (Stoiber v. Honeychuck (1980) 101 Cal.App.3d 903, 915-916.)
For the Realty Times article, see A Tenant's Emotional Damages may be Actual Damages.
For the California Appeals court decision, see McNairy v. C.K. Realty (2007); 150 Cal.App.4th 1500 , -- Cal.Rptr.3d -- (Case available online courtesy of FindLaw.com; may require free registration).
Editor's Note: The tenants' emotional distress in this case was suffered in the context of living in an apartment with unsanitary conditions. I wonder, in the context of a rent skimming situation, where an unwitting renter unexpectedly finds him/herself facing a foreclosure eviction due to the landlord's pocketing of the tenant's rent and security deposit without making the mortgage payments, whether the tenant's emotional distress would be compensable as actual damages, or the landlord's conduct punished with punitive damages.