Defective Pre-Termination Notice Included Undesignated Charges
Facts: A Section 8 resident signed a HUD model lease for a unit. The term of the lease was for one year, and the resident remained in the unit after the first year on a month-to-month basis. The owner filed for eviction based on the nonpayment of rent in the amount of $1,402.
Before starting the eviction lawsuit, the owner sent a pre-termination notice. According to federal regulation, an owner must provide notice to a tenant in federally subsidized housing before an eviction proceeding may be commenced, the notice must state the reasons for the owner’s action with enough “specificity” so as to enable the tenant to prepare a defense, and, when the basis of the action involves the nonpayment of rent, the notice must state the dollar amount of the balance due on the “rent account” and the date of such computation in order to satisfy the requirement of specificity [24 C.F.R. § 247.4].
The pre-termination notice the owner sent stated: “[Y]ou 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.” The notice further provided: “Your rental obligations will include the delinquent rent, late fees, utilities, legal fees, any other eviction proceeding sundry cost.”
The resident asked the court to dismiss the case, claiming that the pre-termination notice was defective. The resident argued that the cure amount of $6,189.56 in the pre-termination notice varied from the alleged nonpayment of $1,402 in rent that formed the basis for termination of the tenancy. The trial court granted the resident’s motion to dismiss, concluding that the notice was defective because it contained legally impermissible and factually inaccurate grounds for termination. The owner appealed, and the appeals court reversed the trial court’s judgment, concluding that the pre-termination notice wasn’t defective.
The appeals court reasoned that the notice should’ve been assessed solely in relation to the requirements of federal law, specifically, that portion of 24 C.F.R. § 247.4 requiring only the dollar amount of the balance due on the rent account and the date of such computation. The appeals court determined that the owner’s notice complied with that federal requirement because all of the charges listed therein were amounts for either past-due rent or other financial obligations due under the lease. The resident appealed this decision.
Ruling: The Supreme Court of Connecticut reversed the appeals court’s decision.
Reasoning: The court looked to the common meaning of the term “rent,” as gleaned from dictionaries, federal housing statutes, federal regulations applicable to subsidized housing, and the HUD Handbook. The court concluded that the term “rent account” in 24 C.F.R. §247.4 is limited to rent charges and doesn’t encompass utilities, costs for repairs, late fees, and attorney’s fees.
According to the court, the requirement that the pre-termination notice specify the dollar amount of the balance due on the rent account wasn’t met in the present case because the notice wasn’t limited to unpaid rent, which the owner alleged as the only reason for the proposed termination of the tenancy, and didn’t designate which of the charges were assigned to rent and which were assigned to obligations other than rent. The court found that the notice wasn’t sufficiently accurate for the tenant to understand and defend against the allegations. The court said a narrow definition of “rent account” furthered the purpose of the specificity requirement of a pre-termination notice to enable the resident to prepare a defense. Also, the court found that excluding the superfluous charges that a resident wouldn’t need to defend against to avoid eviction was especially important considering the lack of legal sophistication of many recipients of these notices.
- Presidential Vill., LLC v. Perkins, June 2019