Mease v. Fox, No. 55027

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Iowa
Writing for the CourtREYNOLDSON
Citation200 N.W.2d 791
Docket NumberNo. 55027
Decision Date19 September 1972
PartiesQuentin R. MEASE by W. Lawrence Oliver, Agent, Appellee, v. David FOX and Josephine Fox, Appellants.

Page 791

200 N.W.2d 791
Quentin R. MEASE by W. Lawrence Oliver, Agent, Appellee,
v.
David FOX and Josephine Fox, Appellants.
No. 55027.
Supreme Court of Iowa.
Sept. 19, 1972.

Page 792

L. Vern Robinson, Des Moines, for appellants.

W. Lawrence Oliver, Des Moines, for appellee.

REYNOLDSON, Justice.

Plaintiff landlord brought this action in Des Moines municipal court to recover three months' rent from defendant tenants, who had vacated the leased home. Defendants' answer denied their default on the rental contract and that plaintiff owned the claim. By later amendments, defendants affirmatively alleged the house when leased was in a state of disrepair and violated the municipal housing code and that plaintiff violated his duty (upon renting the premises for occupancy by human beings) to repair promptly and correct all conditions which rendered the premises unsafe, unsanitary or otherwise untenantable. Defendants further alleged plaintiff was notified of these housing code violations in 1968, in June 1970 one tenant was struck by the falling bathroom ceiling, a city housing inspector then made up a notice of violations, the premises were declared to be a public nuisance, and defendants were ordered to vacate. Defendants prayed plaintiff's petition be dismissed. A counterclaim, containing the same and additional allegations, demanded judgment for $1500 rent paid during the tenancy.

Trial court dismissed the counterclaim because it failed to state any cause of action upon which relief could be granted. The affirmative defense was stricken on the court's initiative, apparently for the same reason and for the additional reason (articulated by the court but not advanced or pled by plaintiff) defendants were estopped from complaining about the disrepair without moving or taking corrective action. Trial court directed defendants to proceed on their original answer and cut off offers of proof relating to the action of the city health department as being on a matter not in issue. Foreclosed from offers of evidence relating to the stricken defense and counterclaim, one of the defendant tenants testified on cross-examination the last rent payment was for May 1970, and defendants resided in the house until August 27, 1970. Trial court thereupon directed

Page 793

a plaintiff's verdict for $225. On defendants' appeal we reverse and remand.

Defendants assert trial court erred in striking the counterclaim and affirmative defense alleging plaintiff breached a contractual obligation warranting the leased premises to be habitable. Plaintiff does not dispute defendants' theory of their pleadings but relies solely on the rule the tenant takes the demised premises as he finds them, and that between lessor and lessee the doctrine of caveat emptor ordinarily applies.

I. At common law the real estate lease took nurture and growth in the field of real property law, not contract law. In property law the lease was regarded as a conveyance of an estate for a term. The contract concept of mutually dependent promises, developing later, had little impact on the landlord-tenant relationship. Leases, elaborately conceived and drafted, were commonly supposed to express the full intent of the parties. Incorporated covenants were held to be mutually independent unless in terms expressly conditional. 6 Williston on Contracts § 890, pp. 580--91 (3d ed. 1962); Lesar, Landlord and Tenant Reform, 35 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 1279 (1960). The rents were considered as issuing from the land, through the tenant as a conduit. 2 F. Pollock & F. Maitland, The History of English Law 131 (2d ed. 1923).

In the agrarian setting of the Middle Ages, with main emphasis on the land conveyance aspect of the lease, there evolved (out of the 'waste' doctrine) the concept absolving the landlord of all obligation to repair. 3 W. Holdsworth, A History of English Law 122--23 (6th ed. 1934). That era's simple buildings were of secondary importance and readily repairable by the occupying tenant. The tenant became the owner and occupier for the lease term, and with respect to the condition of the premises, subject to the ancient doctrine of caveat emptor. There was no implied warranty of habitability or fitness for the purpose leased. These rules were generally recognized by common-law jurisdictions, including Iowa. Viterbo v. Friedlander, 120 U.S. 707, 7 S.Ct. 962, 30 L.Ed. 776 (1887); Gamble-Robinson Co. v. Buzzard, 65 F.2d 950 (8 Cir. 1933); Fetters v. City of Des Moines, 260 Iowa 490, 149 N.W.2d 815 (1967); 49 Am.Jur.2d, Landlord and Tenant § 768, pp. 705--06; 52 C.J.S., Landlord and Tenant § 423(3), p. 165. Although though deeply embedded, these common-law concepts increasingly lost viability in the era of industrialization with its attendant exploding urban population and housing. The modern city tenant has little interest in the land. He seeks a combination of living space, utilities, facilities, and services suitable for occupation.

Recoiling from the harsh result of the rule's application in an urban setting, courts first evolved exceptions, some conceived in logic, others in fiction. The covenant--frequently implied rather than expressed--of quiet enjoyment with the concomitant remedies based on constructive eviction furnished one escape. Boyer v. Commercial Bldg. Inv. Co., 110 Iowa 491, 81 N.W. 720 (1900); 2 Powell on Real Property § 225(3), pp. 232--40 (Rohan ed. 1971). Iowa, and many other jurisdictions, devised exceptions grounded on partially retained control by landlord of defective common ways and elevators (Stupka v. Scheidel, 244 Iowa 442, 56 N.W.2d 874 (1953)), of common facilities furnished with multiple housing (Primus v. Bellevue Apartments, 241 Iowa 1055, 44 N.W.2d 347 (1950)), and of individual apartments with respect to utilities furnished (Hutchinson v. Des Moines Housing Corporation, 248 Iowa 1121, 84 N.W.2d 10 (1957)).

Still other exceptions were created, imposing warranty of habitability or fitness in the case of furnished houses (Ingalls v. Hobbs, 156 Mass. 348, 31 N.E. 286 (1892); 1 American Law of Property § 3.45, pp. 267--68 (Casner ed. 1952)), premises not yet built (Markman v. Hoefer, 252 Iowa 118, 106 N.W.2d 59 (1960); Swift v. The East Waterloo Hotel Co., 40 Iowa 322 (1875)), and other situations involving

Page 794

short term leases (Gibson v. Shelby County Fair Ass'n, 241 Iowa 1349, 44 N.W.2d 362 (1950)). A related rule evolved, imposing on the landlord an obligation to disclose unsafe conditions known to him and not known to or discoverable by the tenant. Wright v. Peterson, 259 Iowa 1239, 146 N.W.2d 617 (1966); 49 Am.Jur.2d, Landlord and Tenant § 767, p. 705; 52 C.J.S., Landlord and Tenant § 417(3), p. 37.

Although such cases blunted the impact of the outmoded doctrine in limited situations, it continued to be attacked by a host of legal writers advancing the reality of an implied warranty of habitability and fitness. Lesar, Landlord and Tenant Reform, 35 N.Y.U.L.Rev. 1279 (1960); Moskovitz, Rent Withholding and the Implied Warranty of Habitability--Some New Breakthroughs, 4 Clearinghouse Rev. 49 (1970); Skillern, Implied Warranties in Leases: The Need for Change, 44 Denver L.J. 387 (1967); Note, Implied Warranty of Habitability in Housing Leases, 21 Drake L.Rev. 300 (1972); Comment, Implied Warranty of Habitability: An Incipient Trend in the Law of Landlord-Tenant? 40 Fordham L.Rev. 123 (1971); Comment, Implied Warranty of Habitability--Demise of the Traditional Doctrine of Caveat Emptor, 20 DePaul L.Rev. 955 (1971); Comment, Implied Warranty of Habitability in Residential Leases--a Defense to Landlord Eviction Actions, 23 U.Fla.L.Rev. 785 (1971); Comment, Plotting the Long-overdue Death of Caveat Emptor in Leased Housing, 6 U.San Fran.L.Rev. 147 (1971); Comment, Tenant Remedies--the Implied Warranty of Fitness and Habitability, 16 Vill.L.Rev. 710 (1971); 20 Buff.L.Rev. 567 (1971); 39 Geo.Wash.L.Rev. 152 (1970).

The trend of modern decisions adopting an implied warranty concept is grounded, in part, on a felt need to re-assess the real as opposed to theoretical meaning of a lease:

'There is a clearly discernible tendency on the part of the courts to cast aside the technicalities in the interpretation of leases and to concentrate their attention, as in the case of other contracts, on the intention of the parties, * * *.'

6 Williston on Contracts § 890A, pp. 592--93 (3d ed. 1962).

Discernible also in the current decisions is the tendency to narrow application of the caveat emptor rule. This court has noted and followed this lead in extending the doctrine of implied warranty in the sale of personalty. Drager v. Carlson Hybrid Corn Co., 244 Iowa 78, 56 N.W.2d 18 (1952). We...

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81 practice notes
  • Com., by Creamer v. Monumental Properties, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 5, 1974
    ...v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616, 627, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 711, 517 P.2d 1168, 1175 (1974) (citation omitted); accord, Mease v. Fox, Iowa, 200 N.W.2d 791, 793 (1972). See generally Schoshinski, Remedies of the Indigent Tenant; Proposal for Change, 54 Geo.L.J. 519 (1966); Note, The Tenant as ......
  • De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown, Inc., No. 14–0820.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 6, 2016
    ...Mobile Home Parks Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, 31 Drake L. Rev. 253, 256–57 (1981) [hereinafter Lovell]; see also Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791, 793 (Iowa 1972). The right to possess land for agricultural purposes was thought to be at the heart of the transaction, and as a result, th......
  • Pugh v. Holmes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 15, 1979
    ...lease and throughout its duration. Id. citing Old Town Development Co. v. Langford, 349 N.E.2d 744, 764 (Ind.App.1976) and Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791, 796 (Iowa In order to constitute a breach of the warranty the defect must be of a nature and kind which will prevent the use of the dwelli......
  • Trentacost v. Brussel
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • March 12, 1980
    ...51 Hawaii 426, 462 P.2d 470 (Sup.Ct.1969); Jack Spring, Inc. v. Little, 50 Ill.2d 351, 280 N.E.2d 208 (Sup.Ct.1972); Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791 (Iowa Sup.Ct.1972); Boston Housing Auth. v. Hemmingway, 363 Mass. 184, 293 N.E.2d 831 (Sup.Jud.Ct.1973); King v. Moorhead ; Kline v. Burnes, 111 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
81 cases
  • Com., by Creamer v. Monumental Properties, Inc.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • December 5, 1974
    ...v. Superior Court, 10 Cal.3d 616, 627, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 711, 517 P.2d 1168, 1175 (1974) (citation omitted); accord, Mease v. Fox, Iowa, 200 N.W.2d 791, 793 (1972). See generally Schoshinski, Remedies of the Indigent Tenant; Proposal for Change, 54 Geo.L.J. 519 (1966); Note, The Tenant as ......
  • De Stefano v. Apts. Downtown, Inc., No. 14–0820.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • May 6, 2016
    ...Mobile Home Parks Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, 31 Drake L. Rev. 253, 256–57 (1981) [hereinafter Lovell]; see also Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791, 793 (Iowa 1972). The right to possess land for agricultural purposes was thought to be at the heart of the transaction, and as a result, th......
  • Pugh v. Holmes
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Pennsylvania
    • August 15, 1979
    ...lease and throughout its duration. Id. citing Old Town Development Co. v. Langford, 349 N.E.2d 744, 764 (Ind.App.1976) and Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791, 796 (Iowa In order to constitute a breach of the warranty the defect must be of a nature and kind which will prevent the use of the dwelli......
  • Trentacost v. Brussel
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • March 12, 1980
    ...51 Hawaii 426, 462 P.2d 470 (Sup.Ct.1969); Jack Spring, Inc. v. Little, 50 Ill.2d 351, 280 N.E.2d 208 (Sup.Ct.1972); Mease v. Fox, 200 N.W.2d 791 (Iowa Sup.Ct.1972); Boston Housing Auth. v. Hemmingway, 363 Mass. 184, 293 N.E.2d 831 (Sup.Jud.Ct.1973); King v. Moorhead ; Kline v. Burnes, 111 ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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