In a recent decision by the Court of Appeal, a landlord was unable to evict a tenant who did not have renter’s insurance as required by her rental agreement. This decision has important implications for landlords in the City of Los Angeles, subject to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. A copy of the decision, Nivo 1 LLC v. Amiteria Antunez can be found here.
On May 29, 2012, the Landlord filed an unlawful detainer against the Tenant for failure to pay rent and for failing to have renter’s insurance. The Landlord had served two Three Day Notices — one for the failure to pay rent and one for the failure to have renter’s insurance. The Tenant’s unit was subject to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, also known as rent control.
The rental agreement entered into between the Landlord and Tenant contained a provision that required the Tenant to have a renter’s insurance policy to insure the Tenant’s personal possessions. In 2011, the Landlord served the Tenant with a Notice of Change of Terms of Tenancy stating that any breach of a rental agreement would be a material breach. In her Answer, the Tenant stated that she never had renter’s insurance since she moved into the unit in 1998.
At the unlawful detainer trial, the court found that the Tenant did not materially breach the rental agreement. Landlord appealed the trial court’s decision.
The Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance prohibits a landlord from filing an unlawful detainer based on a unilateral change in terms of tenancy. The original terms of the rental agreement merely stated that failure to have renter’s insurance would result in a waiver of the Tenant’s rights to seek damages from the Landlord if there was damage to the Tenant’s personal property. The 2011 modification changed the terms so that a failure to maintain renter’s insurance would be a material breach of the rental agreement.
Under the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, the 2011 amendment was invalid to go forward on an unlawful detainer because it was a unilateral change. There was no agreement between the Landlord and the Tenant because the Landlord merely served a Notice of Changes of Terms of Tenancy.
Further, the Court found that failure to maintain renter’s insurance was not a material breach. In order to prosecute an unlawful detainer for a breach of the rental agreement, the breach must be material, meaning substantial or total, in order for a tenant to be evicted as a result. The Court viewed a provision requiring renter’s insurance protects the tenant more than the landlord. In addition, the Landlord was only selectively enforcing the provision against some tenants.
This case provides some insight into the complexity of filing an unlawful detainer against a tenant who lives in a unit subject to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance. This case further highlights what is a material breach that could cause an eviction. It is important to note that there were two issues. The first was whether the 2011 amendment was valid. The second was whether failing to maintain renter’s insurance was a material breach.
Attorney Anthony Marinaccio handles unlawful detainers and is knowledgeable in rent control laws. Please contact me at (818) 839-5220 or through his website at www.marinacciolaw.com for a free initial consultation. My office is centrally located in Glendale, California and I am available throughout Los Angeles County.