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Presidential Village, LLC v. Perkins

Supreme Court of Connecticut

June 18, 2019


          Argued October 9, 2018

         Procedural History

         Summary process action, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New Haven, Housing Session, where the court, Ecker, J., granted the named defendant's motion to dismiss and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Court, DiPentima, C. J., and Keller and Prescott, Js., which reversed the trial court's judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings, and the named defendant, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Reversed; judgment directed.

          Amy Eppler-Epstein, with whom was Shelley White, for the appellant (named defendant).

          David E. Schancupp, with whom was Hugh D. Hughes, for the appellee (plaintiff).

          J.L. Pottenger, Jr., filed a brief for the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization et al. as amici curiae.

          Robinson, C. J., and Palmer, McDonald, D'Auria, Mullins and Kahn, Js.


          McDONALD, J.

         This summary process action concerns the degree of specificity required in the pretermination notice[1] that, pursuant to regulations promulgated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), must be provided to a tenant who resides in federally subsidized housing before the landlord may commence an eviction proceeding against that tenant. Specifically, the issue presented is whether a pretermination notice asserting nonpayment of rent as the ground for the proposed termination of the tenancy is jurisdictionally defective if it includes either rent charges that cannot serve as a basis for termination of the tenancy under state summary process law or undesignated charges for obligations other than rent. The trial court concluded that the inclusion of both types of charges renders the notice jurisdictionally defective. The Appellate Court concluded that state law is irrelevant to the legal sufficiency of such a notice, and that the inclusion of charges other than for rent is not a material defect under federal law. Presidential Village, LLC v. Perkins, 176 Conn.App. 493, 500, 506, 170 A.3d 701 (2017).

         The defendant tenant, Tonya Perkins, [2] appeals, upon our grant of certification, from the Appellate Court's judgment reversing the judgment of the trial court dismissing the summary process action initiated by the plaintiff landlord, Presidential Village, LLC. We conclude that the inclusion of undesignated charges for obligations other than rent rendered the notice jurisdictionally defective. Accordingly, we reverse the Appellate Court's judgment.

         The record reveals the following undisputed facts and procedural history. The plaintiff is a private company that owns and manages Presidential Village, a housing development in New Haven in which the rental units are subsidized by HUD through a project based Section 8[3] program intended to benefit low income families. Tenants are responsible for a portion of the rent, based on a percentage of their income and other factors; HUD makes monthly payments to the plaintiff to make up the difference between the tenant's portion of the rent and the full market rent. If a tenant fails to provide information relevant to the determination of the tenant's share of the rent, which may be periodically adjusted as circumstances change, the tenant may be required to pay the market rent.[4] See generally United States Dept. of Housing & Urban Development, HUD Handbook 4350.3 Rev-1: Occupancy Requirements of Subsidized Multifamily Housing Programs (November, 2013) (HUD Handbook).

         In March, 2010, the defendant signed a HUD model lease for an apartment in Presidential Village for a term beginning March 2, 2010, and ending February 28, 2011, and thereafter ‘‘continu[ing]'' for successive terms of one month . . . .'' (Emphasis added.) The lease set the defendant's rent at $377 per month; it did not indicate the amount of HUD's subsidy or the market rate for the unit. The lease provides that the defendant's rent may increase (or decrease) for various reasons, including a change in her income.[5]

         In February, 2015, the plaintiff commenced the present summary process action against the defendant, seeking immediate possession of the premises, solely on the ground of nonpayment of rent. The complaint alleged that the defendant's monthly rent was $1402, the defendant's portion of that rent was $1402, [6] and, on January 1, 2015, the defendant failed to pay the rent then due and payable.

         The complaint further alleged the procedures undertaken by the plaintiff prior to initiating the action. Specifically, it alleged that, on January 14, 2015, with the January rent still unpaid, the plaintiff sent a pretermination notice to the defendant, in accordance with HUD regulations, regarding her past due rent. It further alleged that, on January 29, 2015, with the rent still unpaid, the plaintiff served a notice to quit on the defendant. Both notices were attached as exhibits to the complaint. Relevant to the present case, the pretermination notice stated as follows:

‘‘You have violated the terms of your lease in that you failed to pay your rent, in the total rental obligation of $6, 189.56. Your failure to pay such rent constitutes a material noncompliance with the terms of your lease.
‘‘We hereby notify you that your lease agreement may be subject to termination and an immediate eviction proceeding, initiated by our office. We value our tenants and request that you immediately contact our office, regarding full payment of your rental obligations. Your rental obligations will include the delinquent rent, late fees, utilities, legal fees, and any other eviction proceeding sundry cost.
‘‘You have the right within ten days after receipt of this notice or within ten days after the date following the date this notice was mailed whichever is earlier to discuss the proposed termination of your tenancy with your landlord's agent[7] . . . .
‘‘If you remain in the premises on the date specified for termination, we may seek to enforce the termination by bringing judicial action at which time you have a right to present a defense.'' (Emphasis added.)

         The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's summary process complaint on the ground that the pretermination notice was defective and, therefore, that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. The alleged defects were (1) a variance in the cure amount requested in the pretermination notice ($6189.56) and the alleged nonpayment that is the basis of the com- plaint ($1402), which contravenes federal laws regulating the pretermination notice, as articulated in the HUD Handbook and state case law, and (2) the notice's allegations of violations of leases that are no longer in effect, which violate Connecticut summary process law.

         In its opposition to the motion, the plaintiff argued that the pretermination notice was not defective. It asserted that there was nothing defective about a pretermination notice that lists the total financial obligations owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. The plaintiff further contended that a federal pretermination notice fully complies with the law if it includes the specific information supporting the landlord's right ...

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