Stoiber v. Honeychuck

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation162 Cal.Rptr. 194,101 Cal.App.3d 903
Decision Date05 February 1980
PartiesMary STOIBER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Irene HONEYCHUCK, Defendant and Respondent. Mary STOIBER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Frank P. SMITH etc. et al., Defendants and Respondents. Mary STOIBER, Plaintiff and Appellant, v. Ruth V. EARLEY, Defendant and Respondent. Mary STOIBER, Petitioner and Appellant, v. The SUPERIOR COURT OF KERN COUNTY et al., Respondents; William T. EARLEY et al., Real Parties in Interest. Civ. 4001, Civ. 4044, Civ. 4240 and Civ. 4255.
Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, Inc., Deborah A. Vollmer, Delano, Carey F. Scott and David J. Cooper, San Francisco, for plaintiff and appellant and petitioner

FRANSON, Associate Justice.

These consolidated proceedings (three appeals and a petition for writ of mandate) arise from a lawsuit filed by appellant-petitioner Mary Stoiber (hereinafter appellant) against William T. Earley and Ruth V. Earley, owners of the premises which had been occupied by appellant and her family under a month-to-month tenancy. The suit also names Irene Honeychuck, Frank P. Smith Realty and Management, Inc., Ron Perkins and Doe defendants as managing agents of the premises. Appellant seeks to hold the owners and managing agents liable for damages resulting from the dilapidated and unsafe condition of the rented premises. 1 Appellant alleged six causes of action based on the following theories: breach of warranty of habitability, nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent violation of statutory duty, constructive eviction, and injunctive relief from unlawful business practices. The trial court sustained various demurrers and granted defense motions for judgment on the pleadings to the end that all causes of action were stricken from the complaint other than the first cause of action for breach of warranty of habitability against William T. Earley as owner of the premises. The trial court's rulings were premised on the belief that the action against the landlord for breach of the warranty of habitability constituted appellant's exclusive remedy as a tenant for damages suffered from the dilapidation and unsafe condition of the premises. As we shall explain, the trial court erred in so holding. Under the law in California today, a tenant, by pleading proper facts, may state a cause of action in tort against his landlord for failure to keep the premises in a lawful state of habitability.

For purposes of this appeal, we must assume the truth of all material allegations in the complaint (J'Aire Corp. v. Gregory (1979) 24 Cal.3d 799, 803, 157 Cal.Rptr. 407, 598 P.2d 60). The complaint alleges that appellant and her family occupied the premises at 117 Hughes Avenue in Oildale, California, under a month-to-month tenancy from October 8, 1974, until August 19, 1977. The monthly rent was initially $110 and was later raised to $135. During appellant's tenancy, the premises were owned by William T. Earley. Ruth Earley was the owner of the premises for a three-day period. From the commencement of appellant's [101 Cal.App.3d 912] tenancy until January 1977, Irene Honeychuck collected rent and managed the rental property for Earley. From January 1977 until the termination of appellant's tenancy, Frank P. Smith Realty and Management assumed the responsibility for collecting rent and managing the property for Earley. Ron Perkins was, during that period, an employee of Frank P. Smith Realty and Management who performed management duties for his employer.

The complaint also contained the following allegations of agency: "Plaintiff is informed and believes, and on that ground alleges that at all times mentioned herein, each of the defendants was the agent of the other, and all acts alleged herein to have been committed by any one of them was committed on behalf of every other defendant." Additionally, it was alleged in the amendment to the second amended complaint, that each of the defendants conspired with the others to maintain the premises with total disregard for the warranty of habitability.

Regarding the condition of the subject premises, appellant alleged that:

"On or about October 8, 1974, to the present, numerous defective and dangerous conditions were in existence, including, but not limited to leaking of sewage from the bathroom plumbing; defective and dangerous electrical wiring; structural weaknesses in the walls; deteriorated flooring; falling ceiling; leaking roof; dilapidated doors; broken windows; and other unsafe and dangerous conditions. These defective conditions were unknown to plaintiff at the time she moved in to the premises, but as she continued to live on the premises, she became increasingly aware of them." (Emphasis added.)

Also attached to the complaint was a copy of the Kern County Health Department's notice to vacate and demolish the subject premises which listed the following violations among others: heavy cockroach infestation, broken interior walls, broken deteriorated flooring on front porch, falling ceiling, deteriorated, overfused electrical wiring, lack of proper plumbing connection to sewage system in bathroom, sewage under bathroom floor, leaking roof, broken windows, and fire hazard.

Appellant alleged that the defective conditions were not caused by the wrongful or abnormal use of the premises by her or anyone acting under her authority.

Appellant also alleged that defendants had actual and constructive knowledge of each of the defective conditions and failed to correct them [101 Cal.App.3d 913] after passage of a reasonable time. Appellant further alleged that she had repeatedly notified both Irene Honeychuck and Ron Perkins (an employee of Frank P. Smith Realty and Management) of defective conditions, and that no effort was made to repair the defects, except that on one occasion a plumber had been sent in response to a complaint regarding the toilet.

Appellant alleged that as a direct and proximate result of the defendants' failure to correct the defective conditions, she suffered discomfort and annoyance, resulting in general damages in the amount of $20 a day; that the failure to correct the conditions caused her to suffer property damage and economic loss including but not limited to water damage to furniture, mattress and curtains.

Appellant also alleged that the defendants' failure to correct the defective conditions was knowing, intentional and willful, and that she suffered extreme emotional distress resulting from the condition of the premises. Additionally, the complaint alleged that defendants' conduct was malicious and oppressive; punitive damages in the amount of $10,000 were sought. Specific allegations relating to each asserted theory of liability will be discussed in greater detail below.


In reaching a decision whether the tenant's action sounding in contract for breach of the warranty of habitability is the only remedy available against a landlord for failure to repair and maintain the premises in a habitable condition, we first should briefly review the origin and development of the warranty of habitability in California. In Hinson v. Delis (1972) 26 Cal.App.3d 62, 102 Cal.Rptr. 661, the Court of Appeal abolished the traditional common law rule that a landlord owed no duty to his tenant to repair and maintain the premises since the possession and control of the premises are vested with the tenant. The Hinson court imposed a warranty of habitability in all residential leases as a matter of law. Hinson arose in the context of a tenant's action for declaratory and injunctive relief to prevent eviction for nonpayment of rent. The court held the tenant was obliged to make rental payments only after the landlord complied with his duty to substantially obey the housing code and make the premises habitable when defects developed [101 Cal.App.3d 914] which were not caused by the tenant. The court observed, "(t)he implied warranty cases described above permit the most equitable remedy, in that the tenant is not

absolved from all liability for rent, but remains liable for the reasonable rental value of the premises, as determined by the trial court, for such time as the premises were in violation of the housing codes." (Id., at p. 70, 102 Cal.Rptr., at p. 666.)

In Green v. Superior Court (1974) 10 Cal.3d 616, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 517 P.2d 1168, our Supreme Court adopted the Hinson warranty theory and held that a breach of the warranty could be asserted as an affirmative defense in a landlord's action for unlawful detainer for nonpayment of rent. The court rejected the long established rule that a landlord's failure to perform any duty to maintain the premises was independent of the tenant's duty to pay rent. In the modern residential lease, governed by contract principles, the tenant's duty to pay rent is mutually dependent upon the landlord's fulfillment of his implied warranty of habitability. Since the landlord's breach may be directly relevant to the issue of possession, the tenant may be able to prove that no rent is in fact due and owing (10 Cal.3d at p. 635, 111 Cal.Rptr. 704, 517 P.2d 1168). In approving the implied warranty doctrine, Green noted that under the comprehensive housing codes of today, public policy requires landlords to bear the primary responsibility for maintaining safe, clean and habitable housing. The court defined the scope of the warranty as follows:

"Under the implied warranty which we recognize, a residential landlord covenants that premises he leases for living quarters will be maintained in a...

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