Mention v. Kensington Square Apartments, AC 42832

CourtAppellate Court of Connecticut
Citation214 Conn.App. 720,280 A.3d 1195
Docket NumberAC 42832
Decision Date30 August 2022

214 Conn.App. 720
280 A.3d 1195


AC 42832

Appellate Court of Connecticut.

Argued March 1, 2022
Officially released August 30, 2022

280 A.3d 1200

James P. Sexton, Hartford, with whom were John Weikart, and, on the brief, Megan Wade, Hartford, for the appellant-cross appellee (defendant).

Areeb Siddiqui and Patrick Monaghan, certified legal interns, with whom were J. L. Pottenger, Jr., New Haven, and, on the brief, Shannon Price and Nathan Leys, certified legal interns, for the appellee-cross appellant (plaintiff).

Melissa Marichal and Shelley White filed a brief for New Haven Legal Assistance Association et al. as amici curiae.

Elgo, Cradle and Alexander, Js.


280 A.3d 1201

In this housing code enforcement action, the defendant, Kensington Square Apartments, appeals from the judgment of the trial court rendered in favor of the plaintiff, Regina Mention. On appeal, the defendant claims that (1) the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider evidence in support of the plaintiff's claim that predated the filing of her complaint with the New Haven Livable City Initiative (Initiative), (2) the court improperly concluded as a matter of law that the defendant violated title V of the New Haven Code of Ordinances (housing code), and (3) the housing code is unconstitutionally vague. The plaintiff also challenges the judgment of the trial court, by way of a cross appeal, claiming that the court erred in calculating rent abatement based on her share of the subsidized rent, rather than the full market rent. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The following facts, as found by the court or otherwise undisputed by the parties, and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. In February, 2017, the plaintiff moved into an apartment located at 166 Edgewood Avenue, Apartment 2, in New Haven (premises). The premises is one of six rental units in the building. The defendant is the landlord of the premises. The plaintiff's rent is subsidized and her share is $226 per month.1

The premises became infested with insects and rodents around September, 2017, at which time the plaintiff reported the infestation to the defendant. Several other rental units in the building had been infested with insects and rodents during the period in which the premises was infested and remained infested through the date of trial. The defendant hired an exterminator who visited the premises several times between September, 2017, and December, 2018.

On September 17, 2018, the plaintiff contacted the Initiative to report the infestation of the premises. The Initiative is the municipal agency responsible for housing code enforcement in New Haven. On September 20, 2018, an inspector from the Initiative examined the premises and found evidence of insect and rodent infestation. The inspector determined that, pursuant to article III, paragraph 309 of the housing code, the defendant was responsible for extermination and ordered the defendant to rid the apartment of the insect and rodent infestation within three days and to provide documentation of a treatment plan from a licensed exterminator. See New Haven Code of Ordinances, tit. V, art. III, ¶ 309. The defendant treated the infestation and the inspector issued a notice of compliance on December 19, 2018.

On November 15, 2018, the plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint for housing code enforcement pursuant to

280 A.3d 1202

General Statutes § 47a-14h, in which she alleged that the defendant had violated General Statutes § 47a-7 (a) (1)2 by failing to exterminate the infestation in the premises. The plaintiff sought (1) an order directing the defendant to comply with its duties pursuant to § 47a-7 (a) (1), (2) an order appointing a

receiver to collect rent pursuant to § 47a-14h (h),3 (3) a retroactive abatement of rent paid, and (4) such other relief in law or equity that the court may deem proper. As a result of the plaintiff's complaint and pursuant to § 47a-14h (h), the plaintiff began paying her portion of the monthly rent to the clerk of the court. The defendant filed an answer, special defenses, and counterclaim. In its counterclaim, the defendant alleged that the plaintiff "prevented access and/or failed to prepare for ... repairs and/or services in an effort to debilitate and/or thwart the counterclaim defendant's attempts to comply with such housing code enforcement orders or repair/service requests of the counterclaim plaintiff." The defendant also raised the defense of unclean hands, alleging that the plaintiff made numerous requests for repairs of the premises but never complained of pests or rodents as alleged in the complaint.

A trial on the plaintiff's complaint and the defendant's counterclaim was held on February 28 and March 28, 2019. In its memorandum of decision, the court found that the premises was infested with insects and rodents from September, 2017, until at least December 19, 2018, and that such infestation materially affected the health and safety of the occupants. It also found that the plaintiff did not contribute to the infestation, that she expended her own resources and time in addressing the infestation, and that she reasonably cooperated with the defendant in its attempts to remedy the infestation. The court further found that, "to a small extent, insects and rodents still exist in the premises, likely because

the insect and rodent infestation in other rental units within the building [had] not yet been brought under control." The court determined that, although the defendant had "exerted substantial efforts to remediate the infestation problem ... the defendant's efforts were not reasonable because of (i) the long time period that elapsed between initial report (September, 2017) and compliance (December, 2018), (ii) the fact that other units within the building remain infested, and (iii) insects still enter the premises, albeit to a much lesser extent, from the other units in the building." The court concluded that the defendant had violated its duties as a landlord pursuant to § 47a-7 and the housing code.

The court rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff on her complaint and on the defendant's counterclaim. It awarded the plaintiff $1130, the amount of rent she had paid into court. It also awarded an abatement of any rental arrearage that may exist and six months of prospective abatement of rent. Finally, the court ordered the defendant to eradicate the insect and

280 A.3d 1203

rodent infestation in the entire building within two months. This appeal and cross appeal followed.


We first address the defendant's claim that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider evidence in support of the plaintiff's claim that predated the filing of her complaint with the Initiative. Specifically, the defendant contends that, because a cause of action pursuant to § 47a-14h is purely statutory, the court did not have jurisdiction over the case until the plaintiff filed the complaint with the Initiative and waited twenty-one days to file a complaint in the Superior Court. The defendant claims that the court could not consider evidence regarding any violations that took place prior to the date when the complaint was filed with the Initiative. We disagree.

We begin our analysis by setting forth the standard of review and legal principles relevant to our review of this claim. "We have long held that because [a] determination regarding a trial court's subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law, our review is plenary. ... Moreover ... [s]ubject matter jurisdiction involves the authority of the court to adjudicate the type of controversy presented by the action before it. ... [A] court lacks discretion to consider the merits of a case over which it is without jurisdiction .... [J]urisdiction of the [subject matter] is the power [of the court] to hear and determine cases of the general class to which the proceedings in question belong. ... A court has subject matter jurisdiction if it has the authority to adjudicate a particular type of legal controversy." (Citation omitted; internal quotation marks omitted.) A Better Way Wholesale Autos, Inc. v. Saint Paul , 338 Conn. 651, 658, 258 A.3d 1244 (2021). Furthermore, "[a] claim that a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time during the proceedings ... including on appeal ...." (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Premier Capital, LLC v. Shaw , 189 Conn. App. 1, 5, 206 A.3d 237 (2019).

We next set forth the relevant language of the statute. Section 47a-14h provides in relevant part: "(a) Any tenant who claims that the landlord has failed to perform his or her legal duties, as required by section 47a-7 ... may institute an action in the superior court having jurisdiction over housing matters in the judicial district in which such tenant resides to obtain the relief authorized by this section .... (b) The action shall be instituted by filing a complaint, under oath, with the clerk of the court. ... The complaint shall also allege that at least twenty-one days prior to the date on which the complaint is filed, the tenant made a complaint concerning...

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