Owner Can't Evict Due to Undefined Lease Term
Facts: A public housing resident was arrested and charged with simple assault and terroristic threats as a result of an incident that occurred in a courtyard outside of an apartment at another site, approximately 1.2 miles from her residence. The complaining witness told police that the resident punched her face several times, drew a small black handgun from her pocket, pointed it at her face, and screamed “I’m going to kill you!”
According to the terms of her lease, the resident agreed to not engage in “[a]ny criminal activity that threatens the health, safety, or right to peaceful enjoyment of the Premises by members of the Household, Guests, other Tenants or employees of [the site] or persons residing in the immediate vicinity of the Premises.” The lease doesn’t define “the immediate vicinity of the Premises.”
The owner sought to evict the resident based on material violation of this lease provision. The court ruled in the resident’s favor. The court noted an online Google map showing that, depending on the route, the driving distance between the site and the location of the alleged assault was 1.2 to 1.6 miles and the walking distance was 1.1 to 1.5 miles. The court held that these distances were sufficient to support a determination that, as a matter of law, the alleged crime did not occur “within the immediate vicinity of the premises.” The owner appealed.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania appeals court upheld the lower court’s judgment.
Reasoning: The court ruled that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion or err in dismissing the owner’s complaint. The court pointed out that the term “immediate vicinity” isn’t defined in the lease. Rather than addressing the plain meaning of the terms “immediate” and “vicinity,” however, the owner argued that the court should consider whether the resident’s apartment and the other site are in the same “neighborhood.” The owner wholly ignored the word “immediate” in the lease provision, and the owner’s interpretation “would render superfluous the key modifier “immediate,” said the court.
· BCJ Management, L.P. v. Russell, May 2018