FAIRCHILD HEIGHTS, INC. v. NANCY DICKAL et al., SC 18560
Judicial District of Derby at G.A. 5
Summary Process; Whether the Owner of a Mobile Manufactured Home Park can Overcome a Rebuttable Presumption of Retaliatory Eviction by Showing that a Tenant Violated a Material Provision of the Rental Agreement. The plaintiff, the owner of a mobile manufactured home park, commenced this summary process action against the defendant tenants, alleging that they had violated a provision of the lease that prohibited them from parking more than two motor vehicles on their lot. The trial court entered judgment of possession in favor of the plaintiff. On appeal, the defendants argued that the trial court improperly rejected their claim that the summary process action was barred by General Statutes § 21-80a (a) because it was brought in retaliation for a lawsuit against the plaintiff filed by the residents association, of which the named defendant, Nancy Dickal, was president. Section 21-80a (a) of the Mobile Home Park Act (act) prohibits owners of manufactured mobile home parks from maintaining an action for possession of a mobile home lot against a tenant within six months of that tenant's undertaking certain protected actions listed in the statute. If a possession action is initiated by an owner within this protected time frame, a rebuttable presumption of retaliatory eviction arises. General Statutes § 21-80a (b) (1), however, provides that an owner may maintain an action for possession, notwithstanding § 21-80a (a), if "[t]he resident is using the dwelling unit . . . for a purpose which is in violation of the rental agreement . . . ." (Emphasis added.) The Appellate Court determined that the relevant language of § 21-80a (b) (1) was ambiguous in that it was unclear whether the statute was intended to apply only when the entire rental site is being used "for a purpose which is in violation of the rental agreement," as maintained by the defendants, or whether the statute was intended to apply in a broader sense to situations in which the tenant's conduct violates a material term of the agreement. After examining the relevant legislative history, the court concluded that the act was intended to balance the interests of the owners and the tenants. Reading § 21-80a (b) (1) in that light, the court held that the statute encompassed the situation here, in which a tenant's conduct was in violation of a material provision of the rental agreement. The court explained that the interpretation of § 21-80a (b) (1) urged by the defendants would tilt the balance unfairly against an owner, in that it would seriously limit an owner's ability to care for his property, as well as emasculate the duty to protect the quiet enjoyment of other tenants. Accordingly, the Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's decision, ruling that, even assuming that the defendants could establish a presumption of retaliatory action under § 21-80a (a), the action would still be proper under § 21-80a (b) (1) because it was based on the defendants' breach of a material provision of the lease agreement. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will decide whether the Appellate Court properly interpreted § 21-80a (b) (1) as permitting a property owner to avoid the presumption of retaliatory eviction by showing that the tenant violated a material provision of the rental agreement.