Recent Unpublished Opinion Finds Tenant at Sufferance

Our law firm was not involved in the lawsuit described in this article.

In a recent unpublished opinion Division III of the Washington Court of Appeals held that despite the acceptance of rent the occupants of certain rental property were merely tenants at sufferance and subject to eviction via an unlawful detainer action.[1]

The defendants purchased a mobile home located in a mobile home park and began paying the landlord $300 per month for the lot.

The landlord had raised the lot rent to $350 per month just prior to the defendants purchasing the mobile home.  The landowner was careful to give notice of the rent increase to all tenants, including holding a hearing for all tenants of the mobile home park.

Although the landowner accepted the payment, the landowner immediately sent a letter stating that the rent was $350, and that the defendants had no lease and should come to the mobile home park office to negotiate one.

The defendants obtained a blank lease form and returned it with a provision that rent would be $300 per month and that significantly more people would live in the mobile home than when it was owned by the prior tenant who had rented the lot.  The landowner again wrote a letter indicating that the rent was $350 per month, that the defendants had been underpaying, and that the proposed lease terms were unacceptable.

The Court of Appeals upheld the entry of judgment in favor of the landowner finding support in the record for the trial court’s finding that there was no lease.  The Court of Appeals cited several items of support in the record.

First, both the resort manager and the landowner denied that there was a lease. Second, the only lease form produced in evidence was not signed by landowner or anyone in management. Third, the landowner consistently challenged the amount of payments being made, and whether a lease even existed, from the very moment the defendants paid less than was expected. Fourth, the Court of Appeals found that, as the trial judge had reasoned, it is very difficult to believe that after going to great lengths (and even holding a public hearing for all tenants) to raise the rent and give proper notice, that the landowner would accept a lesser rent from newcomers, especially when they were a much larger group of tenants than had previously occupied the trailer.

The holding is interesting because landlord-tenant relationships can be and often are formed without a formal written lease.  Nevertheless, as an unpublished opinion the case cannot be cited as authority.

[1] Groom, Inc. v. Holten, No. 27017-3-III (2009).