Christopher Myatt and Cameron Watson Secure Victory for client with the trial court finding that property managers are not liable for the obligations under the Tennessee Residential Landlord and Tenant Act if the name of the premises owner is disclosed in the lease agreement.
Spicer Rudstrom attorneys Christopher M. Myatt and Cameron M. Watson recently secured dismissal for their client, Heritage Properties, Inc., after filing a Motion for Summary Judgment on their behalf. Plaintiff brought suit against Heritage Properties with allegations of numerous medical conditions allegedly related to “black mold.” By brief example, Plaintiff claimed every injury under the sun including viral and bacterial infections unrelated to fungus: “The Plaintiff . . . has suffered and/or continues to suffer chronic sinus infections, allergic reactions, infection in the right testicle requiring surgical intervention, fever, aches, and chronic coughing.” Despite the extended claims of health conditions, Plaintiff did not produce physician testimony relating to medical causation, nor had he sought any medical opinions to alleviate his far-reaching stress claims.
Heritage Properties was the managing agent for the apartment complex. As the managing agent, Heritage Properties was authorized to enter into a lease agreement on behalf of the owner. Plaintiff signed a lease agreement for an apartment at the complex, which stated that Quail Ridge Highlands was the owner, not Heritage Properties.
Plaintiff noticed black growths in his apartment around the window sills. Heritage Properties staff attempted to make necessary repairs, and Plaintiff refused entry into his apartment. Plaintiff was requested to vacate the premises due to failure to allow necessary maintenance repairs. Ultimately, Plaintiff voluntarily vacated the premises.
Chris and Cameron requested that trial court dismiss the case as a matter of law for several reasons, including (1) Plaintiff could not establish medical causation or medical expenses without expert proof; (2) Plaintiff could not establish noneconomic damages without medical proof of actual exposure; (3) Heritage Properties is not liable for the landlord’s obligations under the Tennessee Residential Landlord and Tenant Act as the managing agent and not the owner of the premises; and (4) Heritage Properties could not be liable for negligent construction because Heritage Properties did not construct the premises.
Primarily, Plaintiff contended that Heritage Properties was in violation of Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-304 under the Tennessee Residential Landlord and Tenant Act as the Landlord of the premises. However, Plaintiff made a fatal mistake by suing solely the property manager. As the managing agent for the apartment complex, Heritage Properties was only authorized to enter into a lease agreement on behalf of the owner (Quail Ridge Highlands) with the Plaintiff.
Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-104(5) under the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act, Landlord “means the owner, lessor, or sublessor of the dwelling unit or the building of which it is a part, and it also means a manager of the premises who fails to disclose as required by § 66-28-302.” In other words, the definition of “Landlord” defines who holds the obligations and liabilities for the subject premises. Importantly, the lease agreement disclosed the identity of the owner as Quail Ridge Highlands, not Heritage Properties bringing the definition of “Landlord” to the forefront of the lawsuit.
In an attempt to survive summary judgment, Plaintiff argued that the disclosure of the owner’s identity was insufficient under § 66-28-302. Specifically, although the name of the owner was provided, the disclosure failed to provide the address for the owner. However, Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-104(5) makes the managing agent a “Landlord” only if there is a failure to disclosure, not an insufficient disclosure.
To the extent that a disclosure is insufficient, Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-302(c) provides the proper outcome. Specifically, “[a] person who fails to comply with subsection (a) becomes an agent of each person who is a landlord for the purpose of service of process and receiving and receipting for notices and demands.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-302(c) (emphasis added). In other words, the trial court found that an insufficient disclosure merely made Heritage Properties, as the managing agent, the proper avenue for serving the owner. It did not make Heritage Properties liable for all obligations of the owner/landlord under the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. As such, the trial court found in favor of Heritage Properties and dismissed Plaintiff’s claims in their entirety.
Christopher Myatt is a partner in Spicer Rudstrom’s Memphis office, focusing on litigation throughout Tennessee and Mississippi. He has more than 10 years of experience handling premises liability cases. His practice is also concentrated in business and commercial litigation, product liability, governmental tort liability, insurance coverage, insurance defense and workers’ compensation.
Cameron Watson focuses on Business and Corporate, Government Liability Defense, Employment, Products Liability, Insurance, Litigation and General Liability, Premises Liability, and Trademark and Intellectual Property law in the Memphis office.