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Lyons v. Citron

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

June 19, 2018

CYNDI LYONS
v.
ROBERT CITRON ET AL.

          Argued March 15, 2018

         Procedural History

         Summary process action, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Housing Session, where the plaintiff filed a withdrawal in part; thereafter, the case was tried to the court, Rodriguez, J.; judgment for the plaintiff; subsequently, the court denied the defendants' motion to reargue, and the defendants appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Abram Heisler, for the appellants (defendants).

          DiPentima, C. J., and Elgo and Beach, Js.

          OPINION

          BEACH, J.

         This is a case involving multiple notices to quit. The defendants in this summary process action, Robert Citron and Gail Citron, appeal from the trial court's judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff, Cyndi Lyons.[1] On appeal, the defendants claim that the court erroneously rendered judgment for the plaintiff on the ground of nonpayment of rent when the plaintiff prematurely served the defendants with the underlying notice to quit on the day she withdrew her first summary process action, instead of waiting nine days after rent became due to serve the notice, as required by General Statutes § 47a-15a.[2] We agree and, accordingly, reverse the judgment of the trial court.

         The following undisputed facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. On July 6, 2015, the plaintiff and the defendants entered into a one year residential rental agreement for occupancy of a house located at 9 Cannon Street in Norwalk (lease). Under the terms of the lease, the defendants agreed to pay rent on or before the first day of each month. In June, 2016, the plaintiff served the defendants with a notice to quit (first notice to quit) pursuant to General Statutes § 47a-23, [3] based, in relevant part, on nonpayment of rent for that month.

         The defendants failed to vacate the premises, and in July, 2016, the plaintiff initiated a summary process action (first action).[4] See Lyons v. Citron, Superior Court, judicial district of Stamford-Norwalk, Housing Session at Norwalk, Docket No. CV-16-5001142-S. On August 4, 2016, the plaintiff sent a text message to the defendants, asking ‘‘[w]here's my rent?'' The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's case, arguing that the text message rendered the first notice to quit equivocal.[5]On September 6, 2016, the plaintiff withdrew the first action.

         On the same day, September 6, 2016, the plaintiff caused a second notice to quit to be served on the defendants, again on the ground of, inter alia, nonpayment of rent. Again, the defendants did not vacate the premises. Accordingly, on September 13, 2016, the plaintiff initiated a second summary process action (second action), which is the underlying action in this appeal.[6] The plaintiff alleged, in count one of her complaint, that the defendants had ‘‘failed to pay any rent or use and occupancy to the [p]laintiff for the months of June, 2016, July, 2016, August, 2016 and September, 2016 within the grace period provided by law for residential property.''[7]

         On October 13, 2016, the defendants moved to dismiss count one of the plaintiff's complaint. The defendants argued that the ‘‘court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over count one which claims nonpayment of rent'' because the plaintiff's withdrawal of the first ‘‘action had the effect of reinstating the defendants' lease and creating a new grace period, '' and ‘‘[t]he plaintiff failed to wait the statutory nine day grace period before serving the notice to quit in [the second action].''[8] The plaintiff argued, in her objection to the defendants' motion and at the court's hearing on the motion, that because the text message rendered the first notice to quit equivocal, [9] the lease was never terminated and that, therefore, the plaintiff did not need to wait nine days after withdrawing the first action before serving the defendants with the second notice to quit. The court denied the defendants' motion to dismiss, and the case proceeded to trial.

         On November 22, 2016, following the trial, at which the defendants were not present, the court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff for immediate possession. The defendants moved to reargue, arguing that the court improperly rendered judgment for the plaintiff on the ground of nonpayment of rent because the plaintiff had served the underlying notice to quit on the day she withdrew the first action. Following oral argument, the court denied that motion. The defendants brought the present appeal from the court's judgment of possession.[10]

         On appeal, the defendants claim that the court erroneously rendered judgment for the plaintiff on the ground of nonpayment of rent because the plaintiff caused the defendants to be served with the underlying notice to quit on the same day that she withdrew the first summary process action.[11] The defendants argue, in essence, that the plaintiff's withdrawal of the first action reinstated the tenancy, thereby triggering a new nine day grace period under § 47a-15a, and that the second notice to quit was invalid because the plaintiff failed to wait nine days after her withdrawal of the first action before causing the notice to quit to be served. We agree.

         We begin by setting forth the standard of review and relevant law. ‘‘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 over their terms. . . . Service of a valid notice to quit, which terminates the lease and creates a tenancy at sufferance . . . is a condition precedent to a summary process action under § 47a-23 that implicates the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction over that ...


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