DOBKINS v. HOFFMAN

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Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5, California.

Ida DOBKINS, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Nathan HOFFMAN, Defendant and Respondent.

Civ. 69010.

Decided: November 08, 1983

Bertram & Chatfield and Bruce M. Bertram, Encino, for plaintiff and appellant. Carter, Monkman, Cooper, Sanborn & Mills and Robert Parker Mills, Los Angeles, for defendant and respondent.

Appellant Ida Dobkins is a former tenant of respondent Nathan Hoffman.   She was evicted from her apartment following a judgment in respondent's favor in unlawful detainer proceedings in the Los Angeles Municipal Court.   Appellant thereafter brought this action in superior court “FOR DAMAGES, FRAUD, NEGLIGENT MISREPRESENTATION, WRONGFUL EVICTION, BREACH OF LEASE AGREEMENT, INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS.”   She appeals from a summary judgment in favor of respondent.

Appellant's claims are based upon the Rent Stabilization Ordinance of the City of Los Angeles.  (L.A.Mun.Code, § 151.00 et seq.)   As an aid to enforcement of its rent ceilings, the ordinance restricts the grounds upon which a tenant who is in good standing at the expiration of the tenancy may be evicted.  (See Birkenfeld v. City of Berkeley (1976) 17 Cal.3d 129, 147–149, 130 Cal.Rptr. 465, 550 P.2d 1001.)   At the time relevant herein section 151.09 provided:  “A.   A landlord may bring an action to recover possession of a rental unit only upon one of the following grounds:  [¶] ․ [¶] 8.   The landlord seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit for use and occupancy by the landlord or the landlord's spouse, children, parents, grandparents, or grandchildren.”

Section 151.09, subsection C, required the landlord to serve the tenant with a written notice setting forth the reason for the termination and, when the termination was based on paragraph 8 of subsection A, also to file a declaration with the Community Development Department stating the name of the family member to be moved into the rental unit, identification of the family relationship, the date when the family member would move in, the rent presently being charged and the date of the last rent increase.

Section 151.09, subsection D, provided:  “In any action by a landlord to recover possession of a rental unit, the tenant may raise as an affirmative defense any of the grounds set forth in Subsections A, B or C of this Section․”

Appellant was on a month-to-month tenancy.   On October 27, 1980, respondent gave appellant 30-day notice of termination of tenancy, the notice stating that it was “given pursuant to and in conformance with Los Angeles City Rent Control Ordinance Section 151.09(A)(8), to wit;  The landlord, NATHAN HOFFMAN, wants the use and occupancy of the premises for himself.”   Respondent also filed the required declaration with the department.

Appellant did not quit the premises, and on December 9, 1980, respondent filed his complaint for unlawful detainer, Hoffman v. Dobkins et al., Los Angeles Municipal Court case No. 443077.   His complaint cited compliance with section 151.09A8 of the ordinance.

On December 17, 1980, appellant filed her answer to the complaint for unlawful detainer, raising the affirmative defense, among others, “that plaintiff has no good cause to evict the defendant, and that the reason stated by the plaintiff is claimed in bad faith, in violation of the Los Angeles City Rent Stabilization Ordinance ․ Sections 151.09 A and C.”

After discovery was had, the municipal court on April 6, 1981, rendered judgment in respondent's favor in unlawful detainer.   Appellant did not appeal that judgment.   She satisfied the unlawful detainer judgment and vacated the premises.

Thereafter, respondent occupied the apartment from approximately May 1 until September 1, 1981.   At the time of the notice of termination, respondent wanted appellant's apartment because “it was on the same floor as my parents' apartment ․  [M]y mother was having kidney problems and her health was of grave concern to me.   It was my intention to spend two to three days a week living in that apartment so that I could be close to my parents, who are in their later years, and be sure that my mother's health did not deteriorate.”   Respondent moved various personal necessities and furniture into the apartment and resided there approximately two to three nights a week, while retaining his previous residence.   Around September 1 his mother's health improved, and respondent felt it no longer necessary to be in close proximity to his parents.   He moved out of the apartment, and his parents moved in “because they liked the front exposure.”   His parents' previous apartment was then rented to new tenants.

On November 6, 1981, appellant filed her complaint in the instant case.   The theory of appellant's case was that respondent never “actually moved into the premises in accordance with the letter, spirit and intent of the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance.”   Appellant contended that respondent's 30-day notice stating that he intended in good faith to use the premises for himself was therefore false and that appellant was thus the victim of a “wrongful” eviction, intentional or negligent fraud, breach of an implied contractual obligation of dealing in good faith, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.   Appellant sought such damages as moving expenses, increased rent, increased living expenses, increased security deposit, reduced earnings, medical expenses, general damages for humiliation, emotional and physical distress, and punitive damages.

Respondent moved for summary judgment, submitting his declaration as to his good-faith intent and his extent of moving into the premises, and urging that in any event the issue of his good-faith intent was necessarily litigated in the unlawful detainer proceedings which therefore constituted a bar to the present suit.   Appellant replied “that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant actually moved into the premises in accordance with the letter, spirit and intent” of the ordinance, and that respondent's subsequent actual conduct could not have been litigated in the unlawful detainer proceedings.1

We hold the trial court correctly concluded that appellant's cause has no legal merit and no triable issues of fact.  (Code Civ.Proc., § 437c.)

DISCUSSION

All of appellant's asserted rights arise from the Rent Stabilization Ordinance.   It is only by virtue of the restrictions on evictions contained in the ordinance that appellant can make any claim that termination of her month-to-month tenancy was wrongful, i.e., not in compliance with the ordinance.   Appellant must therefore look to the ordinance to define the alleged wrong and the remedy.

The ordinance authorizes a landlord to bring an action to recover possession if the landlord “seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit for use and occupancy by the landlord ․”  (L.A.Mun.Code, § 151.09A8.)   The ordinance also provides the tenant's remedy.  “In any action by a landlord to recover possession of a rental unit, the tenant may raise as an affirmative defense any of the grounds set forth in Subsection[ ] A ․”  (L.A.Mun.Code, § 151.09E.)

Appellant in fact availed herself of the remedy provided by the ordinance.   As shown by the pleadings in the unlawful detainer case, appellant raised the affirmative defense that respondent was not in good faith.   That issue was necessarily determined in respondent's favor by the unlawful detainer judgment.   Appellant did not appeal that judgment, and it is long since final.   Appellant may not now relitigate in a different proceeding the same issue which was necessarily determined in the unlawful detainer judgment.   (See Vella v. Hudgins (1977) 20 Cal.3d 251, 256, 142 Cal.Rptr. 414, 572 P.2d 28;  Wood v. Herson (1974) 39 Cal.App.3d 737, 114 Cal.Rptr. 365.)

Appellant misframes the issue when she argues that there is a triable issue of fact as to whether respondent “actually moved into the apartment after he evicted” appellant, an issue of subsequent conduct which could not have been discoverable in the unlawful detainer proceedings.  (Citing Gonzales v. Gem Properties, Inc. (1974) 37 Cal.App.3d 1029, 1036, 112 Cal.Rptr. 884.)   Such “issue” is legally irrelevant.   The Rent Stabilization Ordinance contains no prohibition or regulation of the landlord's conduct after the tenant has been evicted on the basis of section 151.09A8, and it provides no remedy to the former tenant, either for restoration of possession or for damages.   The practical difficulties of devising a fair private remedy for a former tenant when the landlord subsequently fails to use and occupy the premises for himself no doubt led the legislative body to omit any provision for a private cause of action.   To prevent landlords from lying to gain possession of the rental unit, the ordinance instead provides a penal sanction:  “Any person who willfully or knowingly with the intent to deceive makes a false statement or representation, or knowingly fails to disclose a material fact, in a notice required under Subsections C or G of Section 151.09 shall be guilty of a misdemeanor [punishable by a fine of not more than $500 or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six months or both].”  (L.A.Mun.Code, § 151.10B.) 2

The ordinance deals only with that point in time when the landlord “seeks in good faith to recover possession of the rental unit for use and occupancy by the landlord” and provides for the tenant to raise the issue as an affirmative defense in an action to recover possession of the premises.   Contrary to appellant's contention, a tenant has ample opportunity in unlawful detainer proceedings to probe the good faith of the landlord's intentions.   Such a provision is not novel.   The same kind of provision was contained in federal rent controls of the World War II era, and the California courts resolved a number of appeals in unlawful detainer proceedings where the tenant contested the landlord's good-faith intent and motive.  (Janise v. Bryan (1948) 89 Cal.App.2d 933, 89 Cal.App.2d Supp. 933, 201 P.2d 466;  Gibson v. Corbett (1948) 87 Cal.App.2d 926, 87 Cal.App.2d Supp. 926, 200 P.2d 216;  Bumgarner v. Orton (1944) 63 Cal.App.2d Supp. 841, 146 P.2d 67.)   These cases impose on the landlord the burden of establishing in the unlawful detainer proceedings that he honestly intends to occupy the premises, that his occupancy is his prime motive, and that he has no ulterior motive to defeat the purposes of the ordinance.

Appellant's suit based on events occurring after her eviction thus has no legal merit since the ordinance on which she relies does not provide a private cause of action.3  Appellant has already exercised the remedy provided by the ordinance, and the issues relating to respondent's good-faith intent were necessarily resolved against appellant in the unlawful detainer judgment which is now final.

The judgment is affirmed.

FOOTNOTES

1.   Appellant submitted no competent evidence substantially contradicting respondent's account, ante, page 284, of his intentions at the time of the notice and of his subsequent move into the apartment.

2.   The only other private remedy authorized by the ordinance is if the landlord demands, accepts or retains excessive rent the tenant may bring an action for treble the excess.  (L.A.Mun.Code, § 151.10A.)

3.   Appellant suggests there was also evidence of “pre-eviction” harassment which would support the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress.   However, these were not alleged in the fifth cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress, which merely incorporated prior factual references to the assertedly false statement of the landlord's intention in the 30-day notice to terminate.

ASHBY, Associate Justice.

FEINERMAN, P.J., and HASTINGS, J., concur.

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