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All different sorts of trials

At 9 on Friday evening the jury came in after four hours of deliberating on the three-week trial. The results for my client were less than stellar.

There was a lot of money involved. There were large legal fees and press coverage. When I got home I was tired and my wife Cheryl was sympathetic when she handed me her list of things to do within the next week concerning her real estate business. She owns a lot of rental property.

I remember the first time I appeared in landlord/tenant court for her. A lawyer I knew who handles bulk filings wanted to know, “What’s a lawyer like you doing in a place like this?”

He made it clear he didn’t think I knew what I was doing and, of course, he was right. Thanks to my wife, I have learned at least a little. One thing I’ve learned is that what goes on in the landlord/tenant world, from a legal and non-legal standpoint, is every bit as interesting as my higher profile cases.

Recently Cheryl rented a very expensive property to a seemingly nice young woman who had several children. As soon as she moved in she decided she didn’t really want to be there and felt no obligation to pay the rent. What she did do, was to claim water had seeped in through the basement door and damaged her property.

Cheryl happened to have a workman in the house at the time, so she asked him to rush downstairs. According to him, there was 1/16 inch of water spreading about 18 inches from the door, caused by the fact that delivery men were carrying in a washer and dryer in the middle of a rainstorm.

He said the water hadn’t touched anything other than the concrete basement floor, and he wiped it up. The non-rent paying tenant sued Cheryl for $5,000 for water damage to her personal property. When I say “Cheryl,” she sued an LLC that purportedly owned the property, but it didn’t. Suing and serving the wrong defendant meant no notice of the trial, so no court appearance by me. Nevertheless, a default judgment was entered for the $5,000 (albeit, against the wrong company) and the tenant somehow got a personal judgment against Cheryl as well!

So now Cheryl had someone living in a rental property who hadn’t paid the rent, and was waving around a $5,000 judgment from a court that her husband had not bothered to appear before. Needless to say, I rather quickly visited the judge and got the default set aside.

The case was retried the next week. The contested trial resulted in a defendant’s verdict to the shock and dismay of the tenant. It just so happened the next day we went to court for the eviction matter. The tenant had a counterclaim for $5,000 there as well, based upon different damages. That didn’t go well for her either.

As interesting as these little court appearances may be, they are actually mundane compared to some of Cheryl’s legal and extra-legal encounters with her tenants. You see, Cheryl has unusual relationships with her renters. Bob, for instance, is a guy who she often talked to for hours on the phone and sued five times over the course of two years.

He would eventually show up in court, pay the two or three month’s rent that was due, shake my hand, inquire about Cheryl, and leave. Recently, however, Cheryl decided she had gone through it with Bob too many times, and told me, “Don’t take his money this time, I want him out.”

Although Bob told Cheryl he would leave, it was taking too long, and Cheryl had another renter ready to move in.

Cheryl told me she was going over to the property to tell Bob he had to get his last things out, lock the door behind him and give her the key. She asked if I wanted to come. Now, what does a husband say to a client/wife after such a request?

When we walked up the stairs to his front porch, Bob was sitting in a rocking chair drinking beer. Cheryl said, “Bob, you said you’d be gone by now.” He told her he was working on it. Cheryl quickly determined that drinking beer in a rocking chair was not “working on it,” so she started screaming at him.

Bob’s wife didn’t like the fact that Bob and Cheryl were screaming at each other, took her last bag of clothes, got in her SUV and drove off, leaving Bob on the porch.

I looked at Cheryl and said, “Okay, what now?” She demanded the key from Bob, got it, locked the door and called the police to get Bob off the porch. For the next several days Bob kept showing up outside the house.

Back to the night after my three week trial: the first thing on Cheryl’s to-do list was “sue Joanne.” One day while I was in the middle of trial, Cheryl told me that Joanne suffered a nervous breakdown and she was taking her to the hospital. My immediate reaction was why is the landlord taking the tenant to the hospital? The answer is, well, it’s Cheryl. She tends to get involved. Anyway, while I was in trial, she went over to Joanne’s house but could not convince her to go to the hospital.

In the next several days apparently Joanne got worse and problems developed with some of the neighbors. Joanne was accused of stealing and went to the hospital.   Cheryl told me that once she had been released, she got home had nailed all the doors and windows shut and started barbecuing her meals in the bathtub.

Since Joanne was doing things like fighting with neighbors, not to mention cooking in her (my) bathtub, Cheryl received a letter from the city ordering her, as the owner of a “nuisance property,” to appear in court.

Finally, before leaving work tonight, I got a call from the local paper wanting me to comment on the just finished three-week trial. It was good to get back to something simple.

Levison, Mark© 2017 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm of Lashly & Baer. Contact Under Analysis by email at comments@levisongroup.com.

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