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Leone v. Sharron

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of New London, New London

October 22, 2015

Patricia Leone, Executrix of the Estate of Randall Leone
v.
Andrew A. Sharron et al

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

Timothy Bates, J.

On October 7, 2007, Randall W. Leone (hereinafter sometimes referred to as " Landlord") entered a lease with Defendants Andrew A. Sharron and Megan K. Piela (" Tenants") for a single-family house at 315 Browning Road, Bozrah, CT. for a monthly rental of $1, 100. As part of the lease, the Tenants deposited $2, 200 with the Landlord as a security deposit.

The Lease, which ran for a period of one year, ending September 30, 2008, included the following renewal clause, which is the subject of this disagreement.

" Renewal Terms. This Lease shall automatically renew for an additional period of " one year" per renewal term, unless either party gives written notice of termination no later than " minimum 60 days" prior to the end of the term or renewal term. The lease terms during any such renewal term shall be the same as those contained in this Lease."

Both Tenants testified that the wording of the renewal provision grew out of negotiations following the Landlord's offer of a two-year lease term. The couple stated that their relationship was relatively new, and they were reluctant to make a two-year financial commitment at that point. Accordingly they insisted on no more than a one-year lease. The Landlord then proposed a lease with a renewal option that could be exercised up to 60 days prior to the September 30 year-end date, resulting in the wording of the clause.

Randall W. Leone died prior to the hearing on this matter, and his wife, the Plaintiff, did not participate in the original lease negotiations. However, she testified that it was her understanding that the renewal option was a perpetual one, extending from year to year unless terminated by the Tenants by August 1.

In early January 2014 (no witness was sure of the exact date, although it may have been as early as January 2nd) the Tenants notified the Landlord that they were providing him with a 30-day notice of their Intent to vacate the house on February 1. The Tenants testified that after over 6 years of occupancy, they assumed that the lease had exceeded its original term and had become a month-to-month hold-over tenancy. A day or 2 later, the Landlord called back and informed them that as he read the lease, its term automatically was extended for one year, if they did not cancel it 60 days prior to September 30, and that they were therefore obliged to pay rent, utilities, etc. as set forth in the lease through September 30, 2014.

The tenants vacated the house in January, not paying their January rent, and the Landlord responded with this suit for rent and expenses payable by the Tenants under the terms of the lease. The Landlord sold the property in June, and therefore his claim for damages does not extend beyond that date. In a Special Defense, the Tenants questioned whether the Landlord had mitigated damages between January and June, but testimony and listing agreements presented at trial indicated that the Landlord had made efforts, ultimately successful, to rent or sell the house, thereby limiting the damage claim.

The Executrix presented at trial a listing of rents and expenses the Estate claimed the Tenants owed for the period between January 1 and the sale of the house. The total was $7, 757.99, but from that she deducted the security with interest totaling $2, 352.84, resulting in a damage claim of $5, 405.15.

The Tenants, in a counterclaim, contended that as month to month tenants, who had duly given notice of the termination of the lease, the Landlord was under an obligation to return the security deposit and that refusal to return the deposit subjected the Landlord to double damages pursuant to C.G.S. 47a-21.

The crux of this case rests on the interpretation of the lease renewal clause. If the renewal clause is held to be perpetual, the Landlord is owed the claimed damages. If it is not held to be perpetual, the Tenants are entitled to their claimed double damages. Connecticut, as a rule, has not favored interpretation of leases in such a way as to make them perpetual. In the case of Lonergan v. Connecticut Food Store, Inc., 168 Conn. 122, 357 A.2d 910 (1975), the Supreme Court interpreted a 5-year commercial lease with the following renewal clause:

Upon the expiration of the term of this Lease, the same, including this clause, shall automatically be extended for a period of one year and thence from year to year, unless the Lessee shall give notice to the Lessor of termination at lease sixty (60) days before the end of the original term or any extension thereof. 168 Conn. at 123.

The plaintiff, landlord, in that case sought numerous times to remove the tenant from the premises, but the tenant refused to vacate, contending it had a perpetual right to occupancy. While acknowledging that perpetuity clauses are not forbidden by law, the Superior Court observed, at 168 Conn. at 125:

Courts do not favor perpetual leases, however; thus a provision in a lease will not be construed as conferring a right to a perpetual renewal 'unless the language is so plain as to admit of no doubt of the purpose to provide for perpetual renewal.' Thaw v. Gaffney, 75 W.Va. 229, 232, 83 S.E. 983, 985; see also McLean v. United States, 316 F.Supp. 827, 832-34 (E.D.Va.); and see, generally, cases collected in the annotation in 31 A.L.R.2d 607, 623-24 and supplement. Further, '(a) perpetuity will not be regarded as created from an ordinary covenant to renew.' McLean v. United States, supra, 829. Rather, '[t]here must be some peculiar and plain ...

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