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How successful are less common landlord-tenant cases in small claims, e.g., covenant of quiet enjoyment, constructive eviction?

San Diego, CA |

Most landlord-tenant cases involve clear-cut monetary issues such as a security deposit, rent, or repair-and-deduct. What if I want to sue my former landlord for constructive eviction through (substantial) negligent and intentional violation of the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, private nuisance, and repeated use of threats, force, and menacing conduct to influence me to move out, this latter (CA Civil Code § 1940.2(a)(3)) having statutory damages of $2,000 per violation. CA Civil Code § 789.3 on constructive eviction allows for actual damages, which I believe can include moving costs. However, how can I or a judge put a dollar amount on breach of quiet enjoyment and nuisance? This is not as clear-cut and small claims judges are used to clear-cut cases. Any feedback or suggestions?

In my case there is no cross-complaint scenario. I was simply compelled to move because of the landlord's constant interference through substantial clutter, noise, and threats when I complained of the interference, simply because it's the landlord's personality to impose himself, and he doesn't understand the law. I would not have moved otherwise. I can prove how much it cost me to move. I can also prove the substantial clutter through photos (his things hoarded in the yard and common areas), noise and intimidating personality (through several witness statements), phone calls to him at 3 AM asking him to turn down his noise, my letters warning him that I would take legal action if he did not stop. However, how do you put a dollar amount on these? I only know it depends on the intensity and frequency of the interference. But supposing these lasted for at least 6 months, how much would I ask for these in small claims court?

Attorney Answers 2


Your perception about small claims court is probably correct. Regardless of the court in which you sue, the value of your case comes down to quantifiable damages which you can prove with admissible evidence. In a typical constructive eviction case, the damages would include actual moving costs and the higher rent you now have to pay to rent a comparable property. Also, most constructive eviction claims are alleged in a cross-complaint when the landlord sues the tenant for breach of lease, so I am not sure why you want to sue the former landlord unless the former landlord is already suing you.

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Damages on nuisance or quiet enjoyment would be measured by your emotional distress, beyond the statutory damages. If you were seriously emotionally racked -- unable to work, seeking psych help, etc., that would go further than just being pissed off. However, the court would probably look at factors such as the egregiousness of the violations, repetition of the incidents, disregard for your attempts to resolve the situation.

Harrassing someone to move out is a serious matter. You are right about small claims judges and you should get a full evaluation based on the facts of your case as to whether there is an attorney who would take the case on as a full civil case. You would have to convince an attorney that there was evidence of serious misbehavior and not just "strong words" being thrown about.

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