Malibu Investment Co. v. Sparks

Decision Date31 January 2000
Docket NumberNo. 980199.,980199.
Citation2000 UT 30,996 P.2d 1043
PartiesMALIBU INVESTMENT COMPANY, Plaintiff and Appellee, v. Kathy SPARKS, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtUtah Supreme Court

James R. Boud, Troy K. Walker, Sandy, for plaintiff.

Russell A. Cline, Michael Crippen, Salt Lake City, for defendant.

RUSSON, Justice:

¶ 1 Defendant Kathy Sparks appeals from a decision of the trial court granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff Malibu Investment Company on Malibu's eviction claim under the Utah Mobile Home Park Residency Act, and denying her own motion for summary judgment under the state and federal fair housing acts.

BACKGROUND

¶ 2 On July 1, 1994, Kathy Sparks purchased a mobile home located at Malibu's Byde-A-Wyle Haciendas Mobile Home Park (the "Park"). That same day, Sparks entered into a month-to-month agreement with the Park to lease the space on which her mobile home was located. The lease agreement required Sparks to abide by the Park's rules and regulations, which were attached to the lease agreement. She signed a copy of the rules and regulations, acknowledging that she read and understood them.

¶ 3 From the date she signed her lease, Sparks resided at the Park with her two daughters. In December 1996, one of Sparks' daughters gave birth to a baby boy. The Park manager was aware that the child resided in Sparks' mobile home with Sparks and her two daughters.

¶ 4 In March 1997, pursuant to the lease agreement which permitted the adoption of new rules at any time, the Park adopted new rules that were scheduled to take effect in May 1997. Sparks received a copy of the new rules and regulations, and she acknowledges that she read and understood them.

¶ 5 On July 9, 1997, the Park served Sparks with two notices of rules violations — a seven-day notice and a sixty-day notice — both signed by the manager of the Park. Both notices informed Sparks that she was in violation of numerous Park rules related to the repair and maintenance of her mobile home and mobile home space.

¶ 6 The seven-day notice listed fourteen rules violations related to repair and maintenance. After enumerating the specific rules that Sparks allegedly violated, the notice explicitly instructed Sparks to remove nonpatio furniture from her deck, resod the yard, trim a tree that was overgrown onto a neighbor's property, replace a broken back door, remove hard water stains from windows, replace broken windows, replace broken shutters, remove a run-down wooden fence from the back yard, clean and paint an air conditioner, replace a damaged water heater door, replace damaged siding, sweep out a gutter, keep the lawn trimmed, and stop parking a car on the grass. After listing these numerous maintenance violations, the notice also included a provision stating:

You are violating Rule 7 # 3 because you have more people living in the home than you are registered with. This rule says that no occupation by more than one family without permittion from management [sic]. You must cure this by removing evry body [sic] except for you & your 2 daughters.

The seven-day notice further stated that if Sparks failed to either cure the violations within seven days or obtain a written agreement with the Park allowing for a variance, the Park would commence eviction proceedings against her pursuant to the Utah Mobile Home Park Residency Act, Utah Code Ann. §§ 57-16-1 to -15.1 (1994 & Supp.1999). The sixty-day notice listed numerous additional rules violations and also afforded Sparks the opportunity to seek a variance from the rules or a variance from the time period she had to cure the violations.1

¶ 7 Sparks admits she neglected to cure all of the violations listed in the seven-day notice. Sparks also neglected to obtain a variance from the rules violations listed in the seven-day notice or from the seven-day cure period. Instead, she merely claims that she left a telephone message for the Park manager.2 ¶ 8 Accordingly, on July 25, 1997, Malibu filed a complaint in Third District Court seeking to evict Sparks from the Park for breach of the lease and failure to comply with the seven-day notice. On October 22, 1997, after the sixty-day period expired, Malibu amended its complaint to include Sparks' failure to comply with the sixty-day notice as additional grounds for eviction.3

¶ 9 Sparks defended against Malibu's eviction action by contending that she did not breach her lease agreement. In the alternative, Sparks alleged that she was excused from complying with the two notices because the notices were (1) unconscionable, (2) a breach of contract, (3) a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and (4) a violation of the state and federal fair housing acts. Sparks also filed a counterclaim setting forth discrimination claims under the fair housing acts. Malibu moved for summary judgment on its eviction claim on the basis of the undisputed fact that Sparks, by her own admission, failed to cure the many rule violations set forth in the seven-day and sixty-day notices. Additionally, Sparks filed her own motion for summary judgment on the fair housing violations she alleged in her counterclaim.

¶ 10 The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of Malibu on its eviction claim because of the undisputed facts that Sparks violated Park rules and failed to cure them.4 Additionally, the court concluded that the alleged fair housing violations were no defense to the eviction action: "[A]ny alleged discrimination does not estop the Park from terminating the leasehold for Mrs. Sparks' failure to abide by the rules." The court also denied Sparks' motion for summary judgment on her fair housing counterclaim, concluding that Sparks lacked standing to pursue a claim under either fair housing act. Regardless of standing, the court also concluded that Sparks' arguments under the fair housing acts "lack[ed] any factual or legal basis to grant summary judgment."

¶ 11 Sparks appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Malibu on its claim to evict her and its denial of her motion for summary judgment on her fair housing counterclaim. Sparks contends that the trial court erred in granting Malibu's motion for summary judgment because (1) issues of fact remain as to whether Malibu's enforcement of its rules was unconscionable and in bad faith; and (2) Malibu's fair housing act violations are a complete defense to eviction. In addition, Sparks alleges that the trial court erred in denying her motion for summary judgment on her fair housing counterclaim because, she contends, the seven-day notice and Malibu's rule restricting mobile home occupancy to one family violated the fair housing acts. Thus, the two issues we review are whether the trial court correctly concluded that Malibu was entitled to summary judgment on its eviction claim, and whether the trial court correctly concluded that Malibu did not violate the fair housing acts.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

¶ 12 We review the trial court's grant or denial of a motion for summary judgment for correctness and accord no deference to the trial court's conclusions of law. See Thompson v. Jess, 1999 UT 22, ¶ 12, 979 P.2d 322, 325 (Utah 1999). A party is entitled to summary judgment only when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See id.; Utah R. Civ. P. 56(e).

ANALYSIS
I. MOBILE HOME PARK RESIDENCY ACT

¶ 13 Sparks claims that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment in favor of Malibu on its eviction claim under the Utah Mobile Home Park Residency Act (the "MHPRA"). Sparks argues that summary judgment in favor of Malibu was error because she "substantially complied with all proper requests" listed in the seven-day notice. She also claims that issues of fact remain as to whether Malibu's enforcement of its rules was in bad faith. We examine these allegations under the MHPRA.

A. Substantial Compliance

¶ 14 The purpose of the MHPRA is twofold: first, to provide park owners with speedy and adequate remedies against residents who violate the terms of their tenancy; and second, to protect park residents from actual or constructive eviction by park owners. See Utah Code Ann. § 57-16-2 (1994). One of the protections afforded to park owners under the MHPRA is the ability to "promulgate rules related to the health, safety, and appropriate conduct of residents and to the maintenance and upkeep of such park." Id. § 57-16-7(1)(a) (Supp.1999). The MHPRA also provides a procedure through which a park owner may enforce park rules, provided that the rules satisfy the requirements of section 57-16-7(1)(a). The MHPRA provides in pertinent part:

(1) An agreement for the lease of mobile home space in a mobile home park may be terminated by mutual agreement or for any one or more of the following causes:
(a) failure of a resident to comply with a mobile home park rule:
(i) relating to repair, maintenance, or construction of awnings, skirting, decks, or sheds for a period of 60 days after receipt of a notice of noncompliance from the mobile home park; or
(ii) relating to any other park rule for a period of seven days after receipt of notice of noncompliance from the mobile home park....

Id. § 57-16-5(1)(a). Thus, so long as the park rule at issue is "related to the health, safety, and appropriate conduct of residents and to the maintenance and upkeep of such park," id. § 57-16-7(1)(a), the park owner may enforce the rule by serving a notice that complies with section 57-16-5(1)(a). The notice must "set forth the cause for the notice and, if the cause is one which can be cured, the time within which the resident has to cure." Id. § 57-16-6(2). If the resident fails to cure a violation listed in a notice that meets these statutory requirements, a park owner may terminate the lease and commence eviction proceedings. See id. § 57-16-15.1.

¶ 15 In the case before us, Sparks admits that she failed to cure all of the violations...

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