The California Court of Appeal recently reviewed a matter involving a commercial landlord-tenant dispute where there was sewer back up that caused damage to the Tenant’s personal property after the Landlord had filed an unlawful detainer against the Tenant for non-payment of rent. Multanti v. Knight holds that a landlord is not liable for damage to a tenant’s property after an unlawful detainer action is initiated if the damage was not caused by the landlord’s negligence or intentional acts.

Here, the Tenant ran a medical clinic at the Premises. Tenant failed to pay the rent causing Landlord to serve a Three Day Notice to Pay Rent or Quit. Tenant failed to pay or leave the Premises, and the Landlord filed an unlawful detainer action against Tenant. While the unlawful detainer matter was proceeding through the Court, a sewer back up occurred at the Premises leaving the Premises unusable as raw sewage contaminated medical equipment, patient files, and medical supplies.

After being evicted, the Tenant filed a lawsuit for conversion, breach of the implied right of quiet enjoyment, nuisance, contract interference and negligence. The trial court granted motion for summary judgment for Landlord on the conversion and breach of the implied right of quiet enjoyment. A trial was held on the interference of contract claim. The jury found for the Landlord finding that the Landlord did not interfere with the Tenant’s contractual relations. The Tenant appealed.

On appeal, the Court found that the evidence presented at the trial court showed the Landlord did not cause the sewage back up either negligently or intentionally. The trial court found that once the Landlord had filed the unlawful detainer action, the Tenant had become a “tenancy at sufferance” meaning the Tenant only had the right not be forcibly evicted from the Premises. In sum, the Tenant had possession without the Landlord’s consent thus there was no contractual relationship between Landlord and Tenant any longer.

This case assists Landlords who may have issues related a tenant once an unlawful detainer is filed. Separate lawsuits filed by a tenant can occur after a landlord has filed an unlawful detainer. Please contact Attorney Anthony Marinaccio at 818-839-5220 regarding your landlord-tenant matter.