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Indiana Court Holds Landlords Liable to Occupant

| Oct 5, 2017 | Firm News

LANDLORD HELD LIABLE IN SUIT BY OCCUPANT

On September 28, 2017, the Indiana Court of Appeals, in Richter v. Laurenz Place, LLC, reversed the trial court’s judgment for the Defendant landlord.  The Plaintiff, Kristopher Richter, sued his previous landlord, Laurenz Place, after his former co-tenant sued Richter for his portion of damages owed to Laurenz Place.  In the suit, Richter claimed as a tenant he should have received notice of the alleged damages to the rental property, that he disputed some of the alleged damages, and that he was wrongfully denied access to the rental property.

There were two lease agreements.  The first lease was signed on April 28, 2012 by the co-tenant only, and not Richter.  However, Richter was listed as an authorized occupant in the lease signed April 28, 2012.  The second lease was signed April 30, 2013 (herein “Second Lease”).  The Second Lease was signed and initialed by both the co-tenant and Richter.  After Richter and the co-tenant vacated the apartment, Laurenz Place sent the co-tenant an itemized list of damages, but refused to provide Richter a copy, despite his request.

The Court of Appeals restated the issue on appeal as “whether the trial court erred by determining Richter was not a ‘tenant’ within the meaning of the landlord-tenant provision of the Indiana Code.”  A tenant is defined by the Indiana Code as “an individual who occupies a rental unit: (1) for residential purposes; (2) with the landlord’s consent; and (3) for consideration that is agreed upon by both parties.”  Ind. Code § 32-31-3-10.    The Court of Appeals noted that the two lease agreements listed Richter as an authorized occupant, Richter signed and initialed the Second Lease, and Richter also signed the Clubhouse Addendum attached to the Second Lease as “Leaseholder.”  The Court of Appeals also referenced the testimony and exhibits provided by Richter that he paid rent.  One of the exhibits was a receipt from Laurenz Place with Richter’s name typewritten in the “Bill To” and “Customer Name” lines.

The Court of Appeals stated that there was no dispute that Richter occupied the rental property for “residential purposes.”  They also found that it was “plain that [Richter]” occupied the rental premises with Laurenz Place’s consent.  The third element for Richter to be a tenant under Indiana law is “consideration for this occupancy agreed upon by both parties.”  The Court of Appeals “construing the leases between the parties strictly against Laurenz Place and doing so in the context of the other evidence at trial” found that “it is apparent that there was an agreement on monthly rent and the like.”  Therefore, the Court of Appeals found that the trial court was clearly erroneous when they determined Richter was not a tenant.  As such, Richter was entitled to certain rights under Indiana Code sections 32-31-3-1232-31-3-14 and 32-31-5-6.

The trial court was reversed and the case was remanded for the trial court to consider the costs incurred by Richter as a result of the landlord’s failure to afford him the rights as a tenant, as well as to determine the attorney’s fees to which Richter was entitled.

Conclusion

Landlords and Tenants should review this case, their lease, their conduct, and decide how to proceed.  Landlords should consider granting all rights to whomever is an authorized occupant as the Landlord can be held responsible for damages, attorney fees, and may be waiving their right to recover.

Prepared by Todd Small and Richard A. Mann of Mann Law, P.C. Attorneys at Law, www.rmannlawoffice.com

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This blog does not constitute legal advice nor does it establish an attorney client relationship.  This is for general information purposes as in most legal situations the facts and terms of an agreement between the parties can affect the result.