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Commercial lease disputes continue to rise.  Meanwhile, the Eighth District Court of Appeals recently held that a landlord may evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent, even when a tenant has made a claim against the landlord for failure to make repairs and where the tenant unilaterally deposited its rent with the court.  In Di Fiore v. Booker, the tenant challenged the Trial Court’s judgment for restitution that was granted to a landlord in a forcible entry and detainer action.
The dispute in the Di Fiore case started in early 2018, when the tenant filed an action against the landlord over financial responsibility for certain repairs to the premises and water and sewer bills (“2018 Case”). After the Trial Court issued the preliminary injunction, the landlord served a three-day notice for failure to pay rent on January 4, 2019, based upon rent that was due on January 1, 2019.   The tenant began to tender its monthly rent payments to the Trial Court on March 1, 2019.
The landlord then filed an eviction action (“2019 Case”), at which point the Trial Court denied the tenant’s request for injunctive relief, consolidated the 2018 Case with the 2019 Case, and ordered that the consolidated case move forward.  Ultimately, the Trial Court ordered eviction of the tenant due to nonpayment of rent and rejected the retaliation argument asserted by the tenant on the basis that a retaliation claim cannot prevail when the tenant is in default of its rental obligations.  The Court of Appeals concluded that the lease provided for monthly rent payments to the landlord, there was no court order that allowed the tenant to tender its rent payments to the Trial Court, and therefore the tenant could not avoid eviction.
As more and more tenant default and lease disputes occur as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and associated economic distress, Di Fiore is a reminder that lease obligations must generally be strictly complied with, unless there is a court order to the contrary, and that a retaliatory eviction claim should not succeed when the tenant is default due to non-payment of rent.
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