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Act in Haste, Repent 30 Grand
by Ron Davis
Hasty decisions in the ouster of an unwanted tenant have cost the owners of a Louisiana shopping center more than $30,000.
The shopping center owners had purchased the Leesville property in 1997, and thatís when they first decided to try to evict the tenant.
The tenant was operating a nightclub there under a long-term lease not due to expire until 2010. But the shopping centerís new owners almost immediately spotted what they believed were lease violations. And they moved quickly to try to terminate the lease.
The alleged violations were based on a failure of the tenant to comply with the local building code when he made several improvements to the property. A local judge agreed that violations of the lease had occurred and ruled that the shopping center owners could evict the tenant.
The tenant appealed that ruling, but nevertheless began trying to locate a new site for his nightclub. He soon found a suitable building and moved there. The shopping center owners responded by tearing down the tenantís former premises.
Unfortunately for the shopping center owners, a Louisiana court found that although the tenant voluntarily left the leased premises, he was wrongfully evicted. The court then awarded the tenant $1,500. The tenant appealed, contending that the award was insufficient.
A Louisiana appellate court ruled that the tenant not only was wrongfully evicted, but also did not voluntarily abandon the premises. Therefore, the court added, he was also entitled to damages for wrongful eviction.
Explained the judges, ďIt is obvious that the shopping center owners never intended for the lease to continue and were willing to use any means available to terminate it. Their actions in trying to evict the tenant were in bad faith. They are therefore liable for all damages, foreseeable or not.Ē
The judges then awarded the tenant an additional $30,219.59 for lost income, improvements made to the leased premises at the shopping center, and expenses resulting from the move to the new location. (Smith v. Shirley 815 So.2d 980 [La.App. 3 Cir. 2002])
Decision: June 2002
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