We took note of Schwartz v. Hotel Carlyle Owners Corporation. It’s an NY case, but parts of it are equally applicable to an Irving, TX landlord-tenant dispute. Not because out of state cases are binding in Irving, of course, but because similar holdings have come from nearly every court in America.
The basic background of the case is that a tenant sued his landlord because, after notifying the landlord of a water leak, the landlord’s agents entered the apartment and allegedly took some of the tenant’s property. The tenant claimed that the entry breached his right of quiet enjoyment.
There are two parts to this case. Let’s address the obvious one first. You as a tenant have a duty to notify the landlord when facilities are not in good repair. You also have a duty to allow access to the landlord or their agents to make repairs. In general, if the repair is urgent, the landlord or their agents can and will enter your apartment whether or not you are present in order to make those repairs. The landlord has an obligation to stop a leak, for instance, to prevent it from affecting the building or other tenants.
Entering your apartment to make repairs doesn’t breach your right of quiet enjoyment. You are the sole occupant and the sole person with right of entry to your apartment during the term of the lease, except when repairs or certain other work needs to be completed. It’s ludicrous to suggest that a landlord doesn’t or shouldn’t have the right to enter to make a repair, particularly one which the tenant has requested.
That’s not to say that there aren’t landlords out there who use very minor “repairs” as a way to inspect apartments or to harass tenants. Regrettably, there are a few landlords out there who do exactly that. But this case hinged around what appears to be a single instance of entry by agents of the landlord to make repairs that had been requested. Landlord.com notes that “the covenant of quiet enjoyment is meant to protect a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the benefit of the rental agreement, not to enforce a landlord’s neglect of his property.”
Now on to the second issue at hand and other facts of the case. The tenant in the instant case claimed that the repair persons (agents of the landlord) stole some of his personal property. According to the uncorrected slip opinion, it rather appears that Mr. Schwartz saw the lawsuit as an excuse to withhold rent for a very longtime.
That’s based on the outstanding amount of over $124,000 against a monthly amount of $7,591 which is noted in the opinion as the monthly rent. Whatever the personal property may have been, and however large the perceived breach of tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment, sixteen months of rent withholding seems, perhaps, a bit excessive.
Mr Schwartz’s apartment at 35 E 76th St suffered water damage from a leak in July of 2011. Repairs were begun, and then the tenant advised landlord that he wished for repairs to stop. The landlord stated that repairs could have been completed in a matter of weeks. Tenant suggested that he didn’t feel safe in the apartment, that the repair workers were trespassing, that personal property was taken, and that the landlord did not disclose the extent of the repairs to him.
Quoting from another opinion in the same case,
…Lease requires only that it repair or replace the walls, floors, ceilings, and pipes of the apartments but specifically exempts [the landlord] from responsibility for the contents of the apartment… Thus, to the extent that Schwartz seeks consequential damages for such items pursuant to the proprietary lease, he is barred from doing so under this provisions. As to Schwartz’s claim for loss of use, [landlord] notes that he has received amounts from Chubb, his insurer, in compensation.
In other words, the landlord is responsible for the unit, and the tenant is responsible for the contents of the apartment, full stop. That’s something that’s well understood by most people, but every now and then someone tries to make an end run around it. Almost invariably, they lose because, well, you are responsible for your property. That’s why you buy Irving, TX Renters Insurance.
It’s also very interesting to us that Schwartz attempted to sue the landlord for his additional living expenses. First, those expenses were clearly brought about by his unwillingness to allow for repairs to be made. While that’s quite relevant – you have a duty to mitigate the loss, which includes allowing reasonable repairs – let’s set that aside for a moment. The more interesting thing is that he has received amounts from Chubb, his insurer, in compensation.
Do you know what they call it when you make an insurance claim and then try to recover for the same loss from another party, as well? Insurance fraud. As part of the claim, you assign your right of recovery to the insurance company. They may choose to go after the party that caused the loss, but you can’t. If they do, it’s to recover money they’ve paid out on the claim. If you did it, it would be double dipping.
And now, the question you’ve all been waiting for an answer to… What personal property could possibly have been of such great value that its loss caused Schwartz to request that work on the apartment be stopped? Well, he alleges that the landlord’s agents moved furniture, drapery, and personal effects. Most reasonable people would consider that to be a necessary part of making repairs to a ceiling damaged by water. Some were apparently wet and were thrown into the bathroom still wet, causing loss by mildew.
That’s unfortunate, but mitigating that loss would likely be the duty of Schwartz, not the duty of the landlord’s agents. “Further, he shows that wallpaper was removed from his apartment without notice to him.” From the appeals opinion, it appears that wallpaper is the extent of the personal property he’s claiming was stolen. That’s interesting, because if the wallpaper had to be removed to repair the damage, there’s a good chance that it was of no value and would have to be replaced anyway. There may be other property not mentioned, but if so it’s missing from the various opinions we’ve seen here.
The case gets more interesting. Schwartz contends that landlord allowed one of his relatives to access the apartment in 1998. That, too, is unfortunate, but likely outside both the scope of this case and the statute of limitations. We’re not certain why it was even included in the deposition. He also contends that the apartment was rented to others while he was not living in it, a claim apparently based entirely on the presence of cigarette butts on the patio. Because certainly none of the workers doing repairs could have been smokers who went onto the patio to enjoy their habit. Those claims were held in the appeals opinion to be “too insubstantial” to proceed.
But wait, there’s more! Schwartz was, for an indefinite time, engaged in a “long time close personal relationship” with the landlord’s Director of Residences. He claimed that she owed him a fiduciary duty. The appeals opinion held (correctly) that, no matter how long their close personal relationship had continued, there was no fiduciary duty because she was not his agent and didn’t have direct access to his bank accounts, or even to his beach house when he wasn’t present with her. Could this entire matter be the result of mixing business with pleasure? Larger lawsuits have been filed over lesser slights, so it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
In the meantime, one thing is clear. Your personal property is your problem. Almost without regard to the cause of the loss, if your property suffers a loss, it’s your responsibility to mitigate it and to either have insured for that risk or to resolve the problem yourself.
You need Irving, TX Renters Insurance to protect yourself. It covers your personal property, of course, but it covers your loss of use so that you don’t have to try to get the landlord to pay for it. That’s good, because chances are they won’t pay for those additional living expenses.
If you’re curious about the more interesting aspects of the case, you’ll find further details at Habitat, including more on the “close personal relationship” as well as specific damages that Schwartz alleges. We should also note that Schwartz is the former CEO of Merv Griffin Enterprises, and that this case appears to be continuing to be litigated. We have drawn on information in various filings and court opinions, which we’ve linked as appropriate.
It’s also incredibly affordable to buy renters insurance in Irving, TX. You can get coverage for as little as fifteen dollars a month. That coverage protects you and your family from a wide variety of perils, and also covers you for liability if you cause bodily injury or property damage to someone else. That coverage is also useful because it provides a defense if you’re sued. In light of the lawsuit we’ve looked at, you can see how we live in a world where people will sue over any slight, real or perceived, and that defense coverage is good to have.
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