DAR Scores Summary Judgment for Insureds in Landlord-Tenant Dispute

DAR Scores Summary Judgment for Insureds in Landlord-Tenant Dispute

Jim Weixel, attorney at Demler’s San Francisco office, successfully obtained summary judgment for the firm’s clients in a landlord-tenant dispute arising out of a September 2017 water leak in their Walnut Creek apartment. The clients were on vacation when a shower/tub valve malfunctioned. Hot water flowed unabated from the shower faucet for several days, causing steam and other damage to the clients’ personal belongings and requiring the clients – a young couple with a new baby – to move out. The clients sued their landlord and the landlord filed a cross-complaint, claiming the clients breached a lease provision requiring them to report defects to the landlord. The cross-complaint was assigned to Demler for a defense under the clients’ renters insurance policy.

The clients argued that there was no sign of a leak or other defect in the shower/tub valve before the incident occurred, and thus they could not have known of the defect and could not have been under any contractual duty to report it. The landlord submitted expert declarations which the landlord claimed established that the defect would not have been apparent without a sudden leak or a failure to control the water temperature. The clients responded that neither of those things had occurred before, and pointed out that the experts declarations actually confirmed that the clients would have had no reason to know of the possible defect before the incident. Therefore, they could not have breached the duty to report any known defect to the landlord. The court agreed, and granted summary judgment as to the landlord’s cross-complaint. The court also denied the landlord’s own motion for summary judgment.

The grant of summary judgment not only relieves the clients from the prospect of liability to their landlord, but also opens up the landlord to liability for the clients’ reasonable attorney fees under a lease provision for recovery of fees by the prevailing party. The case is set for trial in November, which will now proceed only on the clients’ claims against the landlord. Those claims are being prosecuted by separate counsel.

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