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Colonial Investors, LLC v. Furbush

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

August 1, 2017

COLONIAL INVESTORS, LLC
v.
LOIS FURBUSH ET AL.

          Argued February 1, 2017

         Procedural History

         Summary process action, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Hartford, Housing Session, where the court, Woods, J., denied the named defendant's motion to dismiss; thereafter, the matter was tried to the court; judgment for the plaintiff, from which the named defendant appealed to this court; subsequently, the court, Woods, J., denied the named defendant's motion for an articulation. Affirmed.

          David A. Pels, with whom, on the brief, was Gio-vanna Shay, for the appellant (named defendant).

          Colin P. Mahon, with whom was Thomas T. Lom-bardo, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Alvord and Schaller, Js.

         Syllabus

         The plaintiff owner of a mobile home park sought, by way of summary process, to regain possession of certain premises leased to the defendant in connection with the defendant's alleged nonpayment of rent. The defendant alleged several special defenses, including that the notice to quit was legally insufficient, that certain charges assessed by the plaintiff were improperly treated as part of her rent and thereby improperly increased the amount of her arrearage, and that the plaintiff had misapplied a payment to the defendant's arrearage rather than to her current monthly rental obligation. The trial court rendered a judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff, from which the defendant appealed to this court. She claimed, inter alia, that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the legal insufficiency of the notice to quit.

         Held:

         2. The defendant could not prevail on her claim that the trial court improperly determined that it did not need to decide her second special defense, in which she alleged that the plaintiff improperly imposed customer service charges for utilities as rent and that the plaintiff's charges for utilities in excess of the defendant's usage were illegal and could not serve as a basis for an eviction for nonpayment of rent: that court, which concluded that it did not need to find that the surcharges for the utilities were excessive or against public policy because, even if they were not enforced, there would still be an arrearage at the time that the notice to quit was served, in effect rejected the defendant's second special defense as a basis for attacking the legal sufficiency of the notice to quit; moreover, on the basis of the plain and unambiguous language of the parties' renewal rental agreement and the accompanying documents related to the defendant's billing, the customer service charges were properly included as a component of the rent billed to the defendant, and, therefore, the past arrearage due in the notice to quit was correct.

         4. The trial court properly determined that the defendant's April, 2014 payment was correctly applied to a past arrearage that was due rather than to her current monthly rental obligation; because each monthly statement given to the defendant included any balance remaining from the previous month, and because the defendant often tendered payments exceeding her monthly rental obligation, which lowered her past arrearage due, it was clear from the parties' course of performance that the defendant was aware that her payments were applied first to her total arrearage due and then to her current rental obligation.

          OPINION

          SCHALLER, J.

         The defendant Lois Furbush[1] appeals from the judgment of the trial court in favor of the plaintiff, Colonial Investors, LLC, in this summary process action. On appeal, the defendant claims that the trial court (1) lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the summary process action due to the legal insufficiency of the notice to quit and (2) improperly held that the defendant's April, 2014 payment to the plaintiff correctly was applied to her past arrearages that were due rather than to her April, 2014 rent obligation. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to the defendant's appeal. The plaintiff owns a mobile home site in East Hartford known as Colonial Mobile Home Park (park). The plaintiff leases the 460 lots in the park to tenants who own mobile homes. In August 2012, the defendant, who owned and occupied a mobile home, signed a one year rental agreement for a lot, and, in August, 2013, the defendant signed a renewal of rental agreement (renewal) for an additional year. Pursuant to the rental agreement and renewal, the defendant was to pay a base rent of $420, as well as additional rent, which included utility charges for kerosene, propane, and water.

         By January, 2013, the defendant was in arrears on her monthly rent payments. As of April 1, 2014, the defendant had an outstanding arrearage of $1615.13. This included base rent and additional rent. On April 11, 2014, the defendant made a $600 payment to the plaintiff, which was applied to the outstanding arrearage. After said payment, the defendant had a remaining balance of $1015.13.

         On April 30, 2014, the plaintiff served the defendant with a notice to quit possession of the premises on or before June 2, 2014. The ground stated in the notice was for nonpayment of rent totaling $1015.13. Pursuant to the notice to quit, the defendant could avoid eviction should she pay the total arrearage due within thirty days of receipt of the notice. The defendant, however, did not tender any payment to the plaintiff within the thirty days.

         Thereafter, on June 13, 2014, the plaintiff commenced this summary process action. In its one count amended complaint, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant failed to pay rent for the month of April, 2014, failed to tender the total arrearage due to the plaintiff following the receipt of the notice to quit, and subsequently failed to quit possession of the premises by the time designated in the notice to quit. On June 30, 2014, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the notice to quit was legally insufficient. The trial court denied the motion on July 23, 2014.

         On October 14, 2014, the defendant filed an answer and special defenses. The first special defense alleged that the defendant tendered, and the plaintiff accepted, rent for the month of April, 2014, prior to the delivery of the notice to quit. The second special defense alleged that the plaintiff submetered water at the park without the necessary approval required by § 16-11-55 of the Regulations of Connecticut State Agencies. The third special defense alleged that the notice to quit was legally insufficient in that it did not state correctly the rent due for April, 2014. After a trial before the court, the trial court issued a written decision on August 21, 2015, in which it rendered judgment of possession of the premises for the plaintiff. The defendant then filed this appeal. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         Before addressing the specifics of the defendant's claims, it is helpful to identify the legal principles regarding summary process actions. ‘‘Summary process is a special statutory procedure designed to provide an expeditious remedy. . . . It enable[s] landlords to obtain possession of leased premises without suffering the delay, loss and expense to which, under the common-law actions, they might be subjected by tenants wrongfully holding their terms. . . . Summary process statutes secure a prompt hearing and final determination. . . . Therefore, the statutes relating to summary process must be narrowly construed and ...


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