The Stress The Economy Is Putting On Our Legal System

by Ryan McKeen

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a probate court clerk. I was testifying as a witness in a will contest. I asked the clerk if the court is seeing an increase in such disputes. She said, “absolutely”.  She said in a given year the court would normally see between 4 and 6 will contests a year. She said they have 6 such hearings this month.

What I’m seeing more and more is that people are willing to fight very hard over even small sums of money even when they’re claims could be called questionable at best.  Other lawyers I’ve talked to have told me the same thing that the fights are becoming more intense over almost any sum of money.

In family court, I was talking with a few lawyers and one of them remarked “everything is a hearing right now, everything…and it didn’t used to be this way.”

In some ways, right now may be the most stressful part of our current economic downturn. Unemployment is still high. Credit is either maxed out or unavailable to many. Home equity loans don’t happen any more. Unemployment benefits are running out for some.  Many people’s life savings has been depleted and home values aren’t increasing.

I don’t know what the solutions are but I hope things get better.  The problem is that people become more desperate they become more willing to fight to get anything. That places an enormous strain on both the legal system and society.

If you want to see the strain this puts on litigants and the system, head down to a family court on a short calendar morning. In some cases there’s no room in the courts and finding a place to stand in the hallways can prove difficult. It’s just one more sign of the times we are in.

What are you noticing out there?

If Property Is Owned Jointly Is The Consent Of All Owners Required To Evict A Tenant? The Answer Is “Maybe”.

by Ryan McKeen

According to Judge Abrams, the answer is that all owners of jointly owned property must join together to  commence an eviction action.  Greene v. Cabarrus, DN: NHSP-08-098865 (Abrams, J.)

Judge Abrams’ ruling is consistent with Conn. Gen. Stat. Section 47a-23 which requires “the owner” to serve a notice to quit. In applying the law to the facts, Judge Abrams reasoned that the legislature could have used the words “an owner” and not “the owner” in 47a-23.

I think he’s right. The opinion is consistent with the rules of statutory interpretation.

Other Connecticut Superior Courts are split on this very issue. Making this ripe for appeal. However, appeals in summary process cases are rare. And in this case a check of the judicial branch website indicates that no appeal was filed.

I’ve written about how a different judge reached the opposite outcome on similar facts.

Just another issue to be aware of in the minefield that is Connecticut housing law.

The Connecticut General Assembly should consider clarifying 47a-23 during the next legislative session.

Mom Has Been Evicted And It Shows Up On My Record

By Ryan McKeen

I get this call every so often and I feel bad.

It usually goes something like this: I moved out when I was 19. Later that year Mom got evicted. I was not living there at the time. Now I’m 22 and the eviction is showing up on my credit and I can’t get an apartment or a car loan. Help!

This situation is pretty common because Connecticut housing law requires adult children who reside at the premises to be named as defendants in an eviction action. Landlords are thus compelled to name everyone who could reside at the premises as a defendant.

This post does not deal with what to do after the fact. In a situation like this it’s best that the child notify the landlord in writing that she no longer resides at the premises. And if the adult child learns of an eviction action it’s best that she immediately contacts an attorney.

Doing so is prudent.

Sheriff Tom Dart: The Right Idea, The Wrong Solution. Protecting Tenants Whose Landlord Has Been Foreclosed

I’ve written before about how the foreclosure crisis has impacted tenants in Connecticut.

The situation is sickening. I represented a 100 year old woman who lived alone in an apartment for close to 20 years and always paid her rent on time. She lived on the same street for over 40 years. Even at age 100, she was living by herself in Hartford.

Her landlord failed to pay his mortgage and as a result the bank foreclosed and filed eviction paper work against my client.

She was distraught that she was being evicted and within weeks of being served a notice to quit found herself in the hospital for the first time in her life. She died several weeks later.  Her official cause of death was “natural causes” but the doctor could have written “eviction.”

I’m very sympathetic to tenants who wind up in this situation.

Our legislature should act and afford these tenants greater protection under the law.

That being said,  I was appalled at what I was hearing on CNN radio while driving into work this morning.

Cook County, Illinois, Sheriff, Tom Dart was explaining that he is refusing to evict tenants whose landlords were foreclosed on.

Residents of foreclosed properties in Chicago and other parts of Cook County don’t have to worry about deputies forcing them out. Sheriff Tom Dart says that starting Thursday his office won’t take part in evictions.

Dart says he’s concerned that many of the people being evicted are renters who were unaware that their landlords have been failing to pay their mortgages. He says his deputies have no way of knowing whether they’re removing someone who has defaulted on a loan or someone who has been faithfully paying rent. AP Story.

As much as I agree with Sheriff Dart that something should be done to protect tenants in this situation, I strongly disagree with his refusal to carry out court orders.

Dear Sheriff Dart, we are a nation of laws, not of men.

This is a case where the “cure” is worse than the disease. It is not a sheriff’s job to determine what laws he thinks should be enforced. It is a sheriff’s job to enforce the law.

It is the legislature’s job to protect its citizens. This is the way our system works.

Shame on the Connecticut legislature for not doing more to protect tenants who find themselves in this situation.

If our legislature can pass laws about monogramming dentures, it has the time to both examine and act on this problem.

What say you? I’ve made it much easier to comment and I always welcome discussion.

Thinking About Becoming A Landlord In Connecticut?

A few weeks ago, I was speaking with a housing specialist.

Housing specialists are trained mediators who spend their time getting parties to resolve housing cases.

We were talking about the length of time it takes to evict a tenant in Connecticut.

He said that Connecticut landlords need to have a reserve of at least 6 months of mortgage payments.

I agree completely.

Any landlord who is barely able to cover his mortgage payment with rental income is flirting with disaster.

Legislature Should Examine Connecticut Landlord/Tenant Law

In Connecticut, evictions are a winner take all fight over possession.

Landlords are often surprised that the court cannot order a tenant to pay past due rent as part of an eviction proceeding.

Tenants are often surprised to learn that bringing their balance current with their landlord will not stop an eviction proceeding. This situation creates little incentive for a tenant who knows that he is facing eviction to tender use and occupancy while the action is pending.

Therefore the name of the game for the tenant becomes delay. The longer a tenant delays the action the more time the tenant lives rent free.

If a landlord wants to collect past due rent the landlord must bring a separate lawsuit.

Other state’s have housing laws that are not a winner take all battle for possession. Tenants are able to pay past due rent and reinstate their tenancy.

I wonder if such laws would improve the state of housing law in Connecticut? I don’t pretend to know the answer.

I do know that the legislature should take a serious look at landlord/tenant law reform in Connecticut.



Connecticut Businesses And Landlords Need Their Clients/Tenants Social Security Numbers

Obtaining judgment by default is becoming more and more frustrating.

When time is of the essence, either in an eviction or collection matter the last thing a litigant needs to happen is to have a clerk send back paperwork because some clerk doesn’t like your military affidavit.

The affidavit requires a party to show facts sufficient to state the defendant is not in the military.

I’ve had tenants served in hand and landlords swear oaths that a person works at a certain place and that has not been good enough for some clerks.

Most recently, I ran into a problem when I had the defendant’s date of birth and but not his social security number. I obtained a military affidavit from the Department of Defense with such information only to have it sent back to me by a clerk.

The clerk told me that I needed a military affidavit obtained with a social security number. I asked the clerk where in the practice book that was required. The clerk’s response was that we are at war and she was not about to default someone who maybe serving our country without a military affidavit obtained through the use of a social security number.

The clerk then told me that I could obtain default with the date of birth of the defendant and some other information as in where the defendant worked.

I had to play google detective for an hour to obtain more information on the defendant.

I repeat there is no uniform rule about what a clerk will and won’t accept for a military affidavit in Connecticut.  What’s good enough for one clerk may not be good enough for another clerk.

In the absence of a uniform rule on this, landlords and businesses need to obtain the social security numbers of their tenants and/or clients.

Why Do Cases In Connecticut Get Continued?

One of the most frustrating things about litigation, especially for a litigant, is when a case gets continued.

Litigation can be is very frustrating for all involved.

I think the continuance becomes most frustrating for parties in divorce cases. Divorces and child custody matters can have numerous court dates in a relatively short period of time.

Often, time off from work is a major issue for litigants.

My only advice is to be prepared. I counsel clients to attempt to resolve matters out of court that can be resolved so that they can avoid the time and expense of taking days off from work only to have nothing happen in their case.

Continuances happen for a variety of reasons, off the top of my head here are some of them:

  1. A party is unable to attend court;
  2. A lawyer has a scheduling conflict that cannot be resolved;
  3. The matter is not ready for a hearing (e.g. the parties are waiting on a 3rd party to provide documentation);
  4. Illness; and
  5. There is a likelyhood of the matter settling without a hearing.

Some if not all of these things are unavoidable and our system cannot work if matters did not get marked over which is why lawyers commonly agree to continuances.

Long Range Forecast: A Tough Winter For Connecticut Landlords

I was reading this article in the Boston Globe which details how the cost of home heating oil is going to be significantly more expensive this coming winter than it was last winter.

I fear that this means we will also see a rise in house fires this winter as people seek to heat their dwellings by non-traditional and unsafe means.

Landlords should begin preparing for this possibility immediately.

Here’s some suggestions:

1. If you are providing fuel for your tenants figure out if it makes financial sense for you to remain a landlord. You are either going to have to raise the rent or sell your building.

2. Make sure that your building has adequate insurance. Contact your insurance carrier and inquire about increasing your coverage.

3. Make sure that smoke detectors are working in your building.

4. Evict tenants who are behind on their rent immediately. Don’t wait until winter. My guess is that the average eviction in Connecticut takes about 2.5 to 3 months from the service of a notice to quit. 

Hartford Housing Judges Busy Writing Opinions

Several years ago, I went to a landlord/tenant continuing legal education course. One of the instructors, a well respected authority on housing law, lamented that Connecticut Superior Court judges were not writing judicial opinions.

The instructor said that the absence of judicial opinions on housing law harmed both landlords and tenants.

Since that seminar, I’ve noticed that Hartford J.D.’s housing court judges have been responsible for writing the vast majority of decisions on Connecticut housing law in recent years.

I wish I had the numbers to support my assertion but I think I’m right here.

From what I’ve noticed, the past three Hartford J.D. housing judges (Judge Bentivegna, Judge Peck, and Judge Wiese) have authored a number of opinions.

Housing law is complicated. Very few cases ever get appealed (landlords almost never appeal because it is usually cheaper and faster to simply start another eviction proceeding). Lots of questions remained unanswered. When judges write opinions it provides lawyers and litigants much needed guidance.

by Ryan McKeen