Justia Oklahoma Supreme Court Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Landlord - Tenant
Meng v. Rahimi
Li Meng ("Tenant") leased a commercial property from the Plaintiffs, Mohammad Rahimi and Tahereh Dinpajooh ("Landlords") in August, 2019 for the sole purpose of operating a massage business for a two year term. The parties specifically agreed in the written lease that Tenant use of the commercial space was for the sole purpose of conducting a massage business and Tenant was prohibited from using the space for any other purpose. The Landlords prohibited any use of the leased premises which could endanger life. The Landlords noted that even though Tenant was prohibited from any use of the premises which violated public law or governmental rule, the lease specified there would be no abatement of rent even if there was a loss of business arising from some future law. Landlords argued that Tenant's obligation to pay rent was not excused because of these lease provisions. In January, 2020, approximately five months after the parties executed the lease, the first case of the COVID-19 virus was reported within the United States and soon thereafter in Oklahoma. In March, the Oklahoma governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19 and businesses that were not part of critical infrastructure were ordered to close for a period of time. Tenant stated that she closed the business on March 19, 2020 after she and her sole employee became ill with symptoms of the COVID-19 virus. Tenant did not pay rent after March 2020, and she never re-opened her business. By June 2020, Landlords filed this action against the Tenant for past due rent and eviction. Tenant argued that rent was not due from April through August because performance of the contract had become impossible in light of the public health risk with massage which temporarily excused the payment of rent under the doctrine of frustration of purpose or impracticability. The court stated that the defense of impracticability was not a legitimate excuse for the nonpayment of rent and did not allow Tenant to present any evidence in support of this defense. The trial court awarded Landlords $6,400 in past due rent and granted them possession. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the trial court, finding that the trial court erred when it did not allow Tenant to present evidence in support of the affirmative defense. View "Meng v. Rahimi" on Justia Law
Saunders v. Smothers
Shalalah Saunders (Tenant) sued her landlord Marcella Smothers (Landlord) who left Tenant's hot water heater inoperable for more than a week. Tenant leased a house from Landlord where Tenant lived with her two children, ages three and seven years old. Both Landlord and Tenant were participants in the Oklahoma Housing and Finance Agency (OHFA) program. Landlord admitted that she was subject to the rules and regulations of the OHFA and its programs with respect to the home leased by Tenant. For a hot bath, Tenant boiled water on the kitchen stove. While carrying the water from the kitchen to the tub, Tenant slipped and fell, causing the hot water to spill on her; she received third degree burns and was hospitalized for a month due to her injuries. Tenant alleged that Landlord owed her a duty of care to provide hot water, Landlord breached that duty, and this breach was the proximate cause of her subsequent injuries. Landlord denied owing any such duty to Tenant, asserting that providing running hot water in a leased home was a mere convenience. Landlord argued that because she had no legal duty to provide hot water, Landlord could not be liable to Tenant in negligence. The district court granted Landlord's motion for summary judgment finding that she owed no duty to Tenant to maintain the hot water heater and further that Landlord's failure to repair was a mere condition and not the proximate cause of Tenant's injuries. The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the summary judgment on the ground that Landlord owed no duty to Tenant under the circumstances of this case, but the appellate court did not address any other findings made by the district court. The Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed the district court, vacated the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion, and held that Landlord owed a general duty of care to Tenant to "maintain the leased premises, including areas under the tenant's exclusive control or use, in a reasonably safe condition." Under these facts, Landlord's general duty of care to Tenant specifically included maintaining a hot water heater in an operable condition. Furthermore, the Supreme Court held it was a fact question for the jury to decide: (1) whether Landlord breached that duty, and if so, (2) whether the landlord's failure to repair was the proximate cause of Tenant's accident and subsequent injuries. View "Saunders v. Smothers" on Justia Law
KWD River City Investments, LP v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc.
The issue in this case was whether the parties' dispute over a provision in their lease for a shopping center store had to be resolved under the arbitration provision in the lease or whether it could have been resolved by a proceeding in district court. The disputed provision provided that landlord KWD River City Investments, L.P. would not alter the exterior of the shopping center without the consent of tenant Ross Dress for Less. KWD admitted that it allowed another tenant to alter the shopping center's exterior at that tenant's store location without Ross' consent. However, KWD maintained that Ross unreasonably withheld its consent in violation of the consent provision. KWD contended that the unreasonableness of Ross' refusal to consent was demonstrated by Ross conditioning its consent upon KWD making exterior alterations to benefit Ross. KWD then filed declaratory judgment action in district court to resolve the dispute. Ross filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion to compel arbitration. On appeal, the Court of Civil Appeals reversed. KWD petitioned the Supreme Court to review the opinion of the Court of Civil Appeals. Upon review, the Court vacated the Court of Civil Appeals opinion and affirmed the trial court's denial of the motion to compel arbitration. View "KWD River City Investments, LP v. Ross Dress for Less, Inc." on Justia Law