Tenant Breached Settlement Agreement Due to Intoxication and Violent Behavior
Facts: An owner sued to evict a tenant for breach of lease conditions other than nonpayment of rent. The parties eventually resolved the dispute through arbitration, which was memorialized in a settlement agreement. After the settlement, in May 2016, the tenant was involved in altercations in and around the site that escalated into physical violence and threats. As a result, the owner filed a motion for an evidentiary hearing with the trial court, asking it to find the tenant in default of the settlement.
At the trial court hearing, three law enforcement officers who responded to the incident described the tenant as intoxicated and agitated, requiring her restraint when she lunged at others. She yelled profanities and threatened other residents. And another resident testified that the tenant started a fight the night of the incident in her apartment.
Based on the evidence, the trial court ruled that the tenant breached her settlement and evicted the tenant. Specifically, the court stated that she breached a section of the settlement that says, “[Tenant] shall not engage in abuse or a pattern of abuse of alcohol that affects the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises of Oak Hill by other tenants.”
The tenant appealed, arguing that the trial court erred in interpreting the settlement. She claimed that neither her intoxication nor the incident was sufficient to establish a violation; rather, the owner needed to prove she caused the incident that, in turn, affected others' health, safety, or peaceful enjoyment of the premises. She asserted that the trial court’s failure to find a causal relationship between her intoxication and the incident was grounds to vacate its order and to award her possession of the apartment.
Ruling: A Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court upheld the trial court’s decision.
Reasoning: The settlement agreement prohibited the tenant’s abuse of alcohol that affected other tenants’ peaceful enjoyment. The evidence showed that the tenant engaged in conduct that had an influence on the peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants. The tenant didn’t dispute her intoxication at the time of the incident or her involvement in the incident. The court ruled that the breach of the settlement didn’t hinge on whether the tenant caused the incident to which officers responded. Her unruly behavior was a significant part of, even if not the sole cause of, the incident that resulted in a call for police assistance. Her participation in such a public disturbance was sufficient to show violation of the settlement agreement.
- BCJ Management, L.P. v. Cotton, July 2017