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How much would you pay to collect $2,300 in past due rent?
landlord helpFor one landlord, apparently the sky was  the limit as it pursued what must be the longest, and silliest eviction case ever.
It all started when a tenant nailed a display of marshmallow ‘Peeps’ to the outside of her door just around the Easter holiday.  When the decoration remained for a couple more weeks,  the property manager became concerned about the maturation of the pure sugar display.  After the tenant refused to take it down, the property manager disposed of the artwork in the trash.
 
Dismayed over those actions, the tenant refused to pay the last month’s rent.  The landlord filed an action for eviction and delinquent rent.  The tenant moved out, but counter-sued for $999 in damages that she incurred when she had to deduct money from her pension account to pay for the move.
Then, the craziness began, as news stations around the country, including the infamous Comedy Central show Colbert Report, reported the story as “an attack on Easter.”
During the trial, the tenant was allowed to call a witness whose personal experience allowed him to testify about the shelf life of Peeps.  At one point in the testimony, the judge made humorous comments to the jury, asking if they wanted to take advantage of what would probably be their only opportunity to interview a “Peeps expert.”  But other witnesses who were to testify that Peeps are a legitimate artistic medium, were not allowed.
That’s because the legal issue in this case was not freedom of expression, or even religious discrimination, which the tenant had hinted at initially, but rather whether removing an edible decoration nailed to the outside of a tenant’s apartment door in a shared hallway constitutes constructive eviction.
The jury rejected that claim, but after a few hours deliberation, decided to split it down the middle and awarded the landlord $1,133.  The case has been pending for 13 months.
The next stage of the dispute is for the judge to determine whether the landlord is allowed to add attorneys fees and court costs to the judgement. The landlord previously announced its fees had already reached “tens of thousands of dollars” prior to trial, an amount that exceeds the jurisdiction of the trial court.However, in perhaps the strangest development in this case yet, a spokesperson for the landlord announced it will not seek reimbursement of the fees, but simply request court costs, estimated at about $1,000.

What would you have done in this case?

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  • Joseph

    Leave the art crap alone. Tell the tenant that she would be finanicaly responsible for all insect removal that may need warranted and any damage done to the door,hallway flooring. Also any odor removal. After so many months and the issue has gone away I would evict her.

  • Robert

    Let the full month pass. It is a holiday. After that, send a proper notice to the tenant explaining that the weather will be warming up and to avoid any development of infestation and or germ proliferation that could prove to be harmful to the other residents, that the wonderful ornament should be taken down until next holiday.

    Then if that diplomacy did not work, then, assuming you have a nuisance clause in your agreement, provide a notice of violation of lease, stating that the potential harm of a rotting ornament on the front door constitutes a nuisance, and is therefor a violation of your lease, sect blah blah.

    Then, if she does not comply, you can then evict. And after this much patience and due diligence on your part, the court will in most all cases, find you provided the appropriate notifications and that since so much time had passed, the tenant would now be considered in violation.

    In most all cases, patience is of virtue as a landlord. Unless you live in states like Texas, which has a much shorter fuse of tolerance on tenants. As opposed to California which is very very tenant biased.

  • Martha

    I would do exactly what Joseph said that will eliminate this disaster.

  • Fran S.

    Hello! In Arkansas they will not evict a tenant even after you follow all their rules of notification and they have never paid any rent. Here we have someone getting away with evicting a tenant over an ornament. I would say count your blessings!

  • M Clark

    The property manager would check the rental contract first for stated prohibitions about decoration or art on the premises and then proceed.

    An eviction after this flap is resolved is an invitation for the angry tenant to sue over retaliation. The negative publicity engendered by the property manager would cost him his job.

  • Michelle Tidmore

    Actually I would have dismissed it as a frivulous law suit, warned the landlord that he cannot evict her for using a common ingrediant used in other decorations as well, as a decoration on her door, unless it was in violation of county or city ordinance or state law. Nothing in the law to my knowledge states that Easter Decorations are illegal, there are laws against purposely providing vermin attractions without having a trap to eliminate them or keep them from being inside the home. Considering it was on the outside door, that does not seem to be in violation. No matter how tacky the landlord might believe it to be, what he did was not only a violation of the right for/from practicing and believing in ones own religion, but also a violation of her freedom of speech/expressment of self.

    Being a frivial law suit, and one intended to harass, upset, and cause trauma to the tenant, I would not reward the landlord one dime. I would not award him any damages, I would order that the tenant pay her rent up, and warn the landlord that should he try to evict her for any more frivial events in the next six months, that he would be guilty of retaliatory eviction, which would backfire guaranteeing the tenants a place to live for at least another 3 to 6 months plus civil sanctions against the landlord.

  • sandy spickler

    all this over a peep—–come on, I have better things to do. Obviously communication /or the lack of it may have assisted in resolving this little peep of a problem…..

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