Landlord Owes Damages to Student

Below are summaries of recent court cases affecting the real estate industry.

October 1, 2005

New Hampshire's highest court has ruled that a college student could collect damages from a landlord who allegedly misrepresented the number of bedrooms the student would be leasing from him.

A representative from Sumner Properties LLC showed a rental apartment with two bedrooms and a kitchen to a college student and his roommate. The student stated he was shown both bedrooms in the apartment, and the leasing representative also allegedly said in a joking manner that if the student got to the apartment first, he could have the larger bedroom.

The student and his roommate entered into a lease for apartment 21, which they thought was the unit they had seen. The two-semester lease amount was $3,500, with half to be paid at the beginning of the first semester and the remainder to be paid at the beginning of the second semester.

When the student and his roommate arrived at the beginning of the school year, they discovered another individual living in one of the apartment’s bedrooms. After the student complained, Sumner told him that he had rented apartment 21, which is a one-bedroom apartment. The apartment shared a kitchen with apartment 22, occupied by the other tenant. At this time, the apartment had numbers posted on the apartment doors, which the student claimed had not been the case when he toured the apartment. The student and his roommate were forced to share a bedroom for the semester, after which the student moved into a new apartment where he would have his own bedroom.

The student filed a small claims action against Sumner, claiming the company had misrepresented the number of bedrooms in the apartment. The student sought damages of $875, or half of the first semester's rent. The court ruled in favor of the student, and Sumner appealed.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire affirmed the award in favor of the student. The court ruled that the evidence supported the student's allegations of misrepresentation since the evidence demonstrated that the Sumner representative had shown the student both bedrooms and joked about taking the larger bedroom. It rejected Sumner’s argument that the student was not entitled to recover damages because, even if he had been deceived while entering into the lease, he had ratified the lease by living on the premises. The court stated that ratification may deprive a party of contractual remedies but still allow tort damages for misrepresentation. Under tort law, the student had the choice of either rescinding the agreement or continuing with the agreement and seeking damages. Thus, the court found that the student could collect damages even though he had remained on the premises.

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