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Take Your Medicine

After years of assisting landlords evict tenants, I have an important piece of practical advice to share with landlords: take your medicine and move on.

In an unpublished opinion, the North Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Mecklenburg County District Court awarding a tenant rent abatement in the amount of $2,400, for violations of the implied warranty of habitability and of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Because the Court found the landlord violated the Act, damages were trebled to $7,200. Crawford v. Nawrath, No. COA15-955, Sept. 6, 2016.

The Court of Appeals stated "a landlord who collected rent after having knowledge of the uninhabitable nature of a house, or just part of a house, is engaging in unfair and deceptive trade practices in violation of Section 75 1-1." (Citation omitted). The landlord argued the tenant didn't prove he knew of the conditions that made the home inhabitable. The Court ruled tenant's testimony that the landlord knew of the conditions was sufficient to draw a logical inference when evaluating the conflicting testimony.

The court also ruled that tenant's testimony of the monthly rent and the home's conditions was enough for the district court to conclude the value of the home as warranted and the value of the home "as is." As a result, the tenant need not present direct evidence of the home's value, tax value, size, number of bedrooms, etc.

What is most remarkable about this case is the landlord was granted possession and ordered to pay the tenant $500 in damages with no trebling in magistrate's court. THEN THE LANDLORD APPEALED! By appealing the small claims judgment, the landlord was ordered to pay an additional $6,700, by the district court.

The moral of the story is: take your medicine and move on. While paying a tenant damages is often a bitter pill for a landlord to swallow, it may very well be the best medicine of all.

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