Tenant Un Sil McNairy and other residents of the 224-unit Victoria Apartments sued the owners and resident managers — Hee Cho and his wife Man Park — for actual and emotional distress damages due to breach of the warranty of habitability.
Evidence presented at the trial by the 24 tenants who testified showed an infestation of cockroaches in their apartments and the common areas, rust in the water, pigeons and pigeon droppings, inoperable appliances including heaters and air conditioners, inoperable electrical outlets, floods, termites, peeling paint, worn carpets, and lack of either hot or cold water.
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In one unit, the bathroom ceiling collapsed. The malfunctioning elevator was another common complaint.
The tenants’ expert witness testified he saw 30 to 35 cockroaches in every unit he inspected. City inspectors testified as to cockroaches, leaky faucets, mold, inoperable ventilation, inoperable appliances, and pigeon droppings. Eighty-five percent of the plumbing was in disrepair.
At the trial, evidence was admitted to show that while the case was pending, the property was sold. The landlords’ net gain from the property sale was $3.39 million.
If you were the judge would you rule the landlords breached the warranty of habitability and must pay damages to the tenants?
The judge said yes!
When the condition of an apartment building is not fit for occupancy or rental, the judge began, the landlord is liable for breach of the warranty of habitability. The evidence clearly shows this implied warranty has been violated, as most of the units were “untenantable,” he continued.
“Most of the tenants described emotional distress, not physical damage,” the judge explained. Therefore, the tenants who testified are entitled to $5,000 in actual damages, $1,000 in special damages, and $4,000 in punitive damages, the judge ruled.
Based on the 2007 California Court of Appeal decision in McNairy v. C.K. Realty, 59 Cal.Rptr.3d 429.
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