Supreme Court At-a-Glance Contributor Katherine E. Hedges, An associate at Hage Hodes in Manchester practicing civil litigation and corporate law.

No. 2020-0472

Dec. 3, 2021

Affirmed.

 

  • Whether the trial court erred in entering judgment for the landlord on the tenant’s claim that the landlord willfully violated the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of a residential property pursuant to RSA 540-A:2.

 

A tenant alleged that in retaliation for obtaining a continuance on a final hearing in an eviction action, the landlord undertook several activities that disturbed her enjoyment of her leased premises and violated RSA 540-A:2. These activities included: 1) playing music on an outdoor sound system over a number of days; 2) yelling “GET OUT OF MY HOME!”; 3) shooting a gun or igniting firecrackers during evening and morning hours; and 4) having an unidentified man trespass on the leased property with a camera. The tenant also alleged that the landlord breached a term of the lease, which prohibited the tenant from playing a “musical instrument, radio, television, or other like device in the leased premises in a manner offensive to other occupants of the building” or at certain times. The trial court held a final evidentiary hearing and entered judgment for the landlord. On appeal, the tenant challenged the ruling, arguing that the court should have considered the actions collectively, the court should have considered whether the actions violated the lease, and that the court improperly relied on the tenant’s failure to submit evidence of a local sound ordinance in making its ruling.

In appeals of rulings under RSA 540-A, findings of fact are final, but the rulings of law can be considered on appeal. Therefore, appellate review is very limited, and review is very deferential as to findings of fact. The Court noted that it was applying precedent regarding the standard of review set forth in the matter Miller v. Slania Enterprises, 150 N.H. 655 (2004), which had cited but not discussed the standard of review set forth in RSA 540-A:4, V. The Court did not consider whether there was any difference between the Miller standard of review and the statute because no stare decisis argument had been made.

The tenant’s right of quiet enjoyment is violated when the landlord substantially interferes with the tenant’s beneficial use or enjoyment of the leased property, and in order for a breach of the right to quiet enjoyment to violate RSA 540-A:2, the violation must be willful, which means voluntary and intentional. The questions of if there is a violation of a right to quiet enjoyment and whether the violation was willful are questions of fact. The Court found that there was sufficient evidence before the trial court to support the ruling in the landlord’s favor. Further, the Court found that the tenant had not preserved the other issues for appeal, including the arguments that the actions were not properly considered collectively, the trial court failing to consider whether the landlord breached the lease, and that it was improper to rely on the tenant’s failure to submit a local sound ordinance. The judgment was affirmed. The Court also denied the landlord’s request for attorney’s fees incurred in defending the appeal without prejudice to the landlord filing a motion in compliance with Sup. Ct. R. 23.

 

Craig Donais and Stephen Zaharias, Wadleigh, Starr & Peters, Manchester, for the plaintiff. Bruce J. Marshall, Bruce J. Marshall Law Offices, Bow, for the defendant.