Justia Real Estate & Property Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Delaware Supreme Court
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Appeals consolidated for the Delaware Supreme Court’s review centered on the Rent Increase Justification Act, which governed rent increases in manufactured home communities. The Rehoboth Bay Manufactured Home Community (the “Community”) was owned/managed by Hometown Rehoboth Bay, LLC (“Hometown”). The Appellant in Case No. 139, 2020 was Rehoboth Bay Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”), the homeowners’ association. The Appellants in Case No. 296, 2020 were two individual tenants, John Iacona and Robert Weymouth. Hometown sought to raise the rents in both cases: in case No. 296, 2020, rents would be raised an amount in excess of the Consumer Price Index for this area (the “CPI-U”), for the calendar year 2017; in case No. 139, 2020, for the calendar year 2018. Under the Act, proposed rent increases that exceed the CPI-U must be justified by certain factors. Separate arbitrators in both cases found that a Bulkhead Stabilization project performed by Hometown in phases over more than one year was a capital improvement or rehabilitation work, which, along with other capital improvements and other expenses, justified rent increases in excess of the CPI-U in both years. The Appellants claimed the Superior Court erred by affirming the arbitrators’ decisions that the Bulkhead Stabilization project was a “capital improvement or rehabilitation work” and not “ordinary repair, replacement, and maintenance.” They also claimed the Superior Court should have ruled that the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the rent increases into each lot’s base rent so as to carry those increases forward into ensuing years. The Delaware Supreme Court concluded the Superior Court’s rulings on the Bulkhead Stabilization project as a capital improvement or rehabilitation work was correct, however, the Act did not permit Hometown to incorporate the capital improvement component of the 2017 and 2018 rent increases into a lot’s base rent for succeeding years after recovering that lot’s full, proportionate share of those costs in those years. Therefore, the Superior Court’s judgment was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and the cases remanded for further proceedings. View "Rehoboth Bay Homeowners' Assoc, et al. v. Hometown Rehoboth Bay" on Justia Law

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Appellant Wild Meadows MHC, LLC challenged the Superior Court’s dismissal of its petition for a writ of prohibition. The Wild Meadows manufactured home community (the “Community”) owned by Appellant, was located in Dover, Delaware. The Community was governed by the Manufactured Home Owners and Community Owners Act and its subsection commonly known as the Rent Justification Act (the “Act”). Appellee Intervenor/Respondent Wild Meadows Homeowners’ Association (the “HOA”) represented these homeowners. Multiple homeowners rejected Wild Meadows’ rent increase and, through the HOA, filed a petition with the Delaware Manufactured Home Relocation Authority (the “Authority”). The Authority appointed Appellee David J. Weidman, Esquire as the arbitrator under the Act. Before the scheduled arbitration, the HOA requested financial information from Wild Meadows relating to the Community’s recent revenue and costs. Wild Meadows refused to provide this information. The HOA moved to compel discovery and a motion for summary judgment with Weidman. In his initial decision, Weidman granted discovery of any financial documents that Wild Meadows intended to rely upon at arbitration, but he denied the HOA’s motion to compel the production of additional financial documents from Wild Meadows. Determining he could compel discover, Weidman ordered Wild Meadows to submit a proposed confidentiality agreement, and ordered the HOA to submit any comments on the draft. After taking both parties' comments into consideration, Weidman issued a final confidentiality agreement, rejecting many of the changes the HOA proposed. Wild Meadows refused to sign the confidentiality agreement and filed the underlying application for a writ of prohibition in the Superior Court. Wild Meadows argued to the Delaware Supreme Court that the Superior Court erroneously held that the arbitrator appointed under Delaware’s Rent Justification Act had authority to compel discovery and impose a confidentiality agreement upon parties concerning discovery material. Finding no reversible error in the Superior Court's judgment, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Wild Meadows MHC, LLC v. Weidman" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Appellants Eric Monzo and Dana Spring Monzo purchased a homeowners insurance policy issued by Appellee Nationwide Property & Casualty Co. (“Nationwide”). The policy contained standard exclusions for water damage and earth movement, along with optional water backup coverage. In July 2017, a heavy thunderstorm destroyed a pedestrian bridge and retaining wall located at the Monzos’ residence. A pair of engineering reports prepared after the storm indicated that a combination of water backups from drainage systems, scouring of supporting earth embankments, heavy rain, and tree debris caused the damage. The Monzos filed a claim with Nationwide, seeking coverage under the homeowners insurance policy. Nationwide denied coverage, and the Monzos sued. The court granted summary judgment for Nationwide, holding that the policy’s earth movement and water damage exclusions applied. The Monzos appealed, arguing the Superior Court erred by granting summary judgment too early in the discovery process, misinterpreting the policy, and denying a motion for post-judgment relief. Having reviewed the briefs and record on appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court: (1) affirmed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the collapsed bridge; (2) reversed the Superior Court’s holding that Nationwide was entitled to summary judgment regarding the retaining wall; and (3) affirmed the Superior Court’s denial of the Monzos’ post-judgment motion. View "Monzo v. Nationwide Property & Casualty Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Windsor I, LLC appealed a superior court's decision to grant defendants' CWCapital Asset Management LLC (“CWCAM”) and U.S. Bank National Association (“U.S. Bank”) motion to dismiss. Windsor owned a 48,000 square foot commercial property and building encumbered by debt eventually held by U.S. Bank. In 2015, after learning that the Property’s sole tenant intended to vacate, Windsor sought special servicing to refinance the debt. After nearly two years of negotiation and litigation, CWCAM, the special servicer, offered to sell the loan to Windsor in a proposed transaction for $5,288,000, subject to credit committee approval. The credit committee, however, rejected the transaction, and Defendants filed a foreclosure action against Windsor in 2017. Defendants thereafter held an online auction to sell the loan. A Windsor representative participated in the auction. After the auction, Defendants sold the loan to a third party, WM Capital Partners 66 LLC (“WM Capital”), and Windsor ultimately paid $7.4 million to WM Capital in full satisfaction of the loan. In its action seeking relief based upon quasi-contractual theories of promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, Windsor alleged that but for the credit committee’s arbitrary rejection of the proposed transaction, Windsor would have purchased the note and loan nearly a year earlier for over $2,112,000 less than it paid to WM Capital. The Superior Court ultimately held that Windsor failed to state claims for promissory estoppel and unjust enrichment, and that the claims were barred because Windsor’s representative had agreed to a general release as part of an auction bidding process. Finding no reversible error, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed dismissal. View "Windsor I, LLC v. CWCapital Asset Mgmt, LLC" on Justia Law

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The City of Lewes and its Historic Preservation Commission approved Ernest and Deborah Nepa’s plans to renovate a house in the historic district. The Nepas violated the conditions of the approvals by building a two story addition on the back of the house and increasing its already nonconforming setbacks from neighboring properties. After the City discovered the violations and issued a stop work order, the Nepas applied to the City’s board of adjustment for three area variances to complete the unauthorized addition; the board turned them down. The Nepas appealed the variance denials to the Superior Court, arguing that the City Code provision used by the board to evaluate their variance applications conflicted with a more lenient state law addressing municipal variances. The Superior Court agreed and reversed the board’s decision. On appeal, the City argued the Superior Court erred because the state statute relied on, 22 Del. C. 327(a)(3), only prohibited the City from loosening the state law requirements for granting a variance. The City was thus free to require stricter standards. The Delaware Supreme Court agreed with the City and reversed the Superior Court’s decision. “As long as the variance standards applied by the City of Lewes’ board of adjustment meet the minimum state statutory standards, nothing in the state statute prohibits the City, through its board of adjustment, from applying variance standards stricter than those set by the State.” View "City of Lewes & The Board of Adjustment v. Nepa" on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a dispute over which party to a failed commercial real estate sale is entitled to the buyer’s deposit. The seller, 913 Market, LLC, claims that it was entitled to the deposit because the buyer failed to close the deal on the agreed date, and brought this action against the buyer claiming breach of contract and seeking a declaratory judgment regarding its rights under the purchase agreement. The buyer, Kamal Bathla, made two reasons why the deposit is rightfully his: (1) 913 Market could not convey title free and clear of all liens and encumbrances, as required by the purchase agreement, due to potential claims by a previous potential buyer of the building that had also failed to close; and (2) one of the conditions precedent was not satisfied because the title insurance commitment he received contained an exception, relating to litigation risk from the previous potential buyer, that did not exist in 913 Market’s existing title insurance policy. In either case, Bathla maintained, he was relieved of any obligation to close, and therefore had a right to get his money back. The Superior Court granted summary judgment for 913 Market. In rejecting Bathla’s first argument, the court reasoned that potential claims by the previous failed buyer did not cloud title because the previous buyer “had not perfected (nor did it seek to perfect) a lis pendens claim.” In rejecting Bathla’s second argument, the court read the purchase agreement as establishing a test based not on “what exceptions the Purchaser’s title insurance carrier might insist upon,” but rather on “whether Seller was able to convey satisfactory title, which it did.” The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court’s decision. "Contrary to Bathla’s exhortations, the mere possibility that a previous potential buyer who failed to close might later claim an interest in the building does not constitute a lien or encumbrance under the purchase agreement, and the condition precedent identified by Bathla does not require that he obtain a title commitment with exceptions that mirror those of 913 Market’s existing policy. And ultimately, the basic premise of Bathla’s case - that there was a genuine risk that the previous potential buyer would sue Bathla over the property - is implausible and does not provide a basis under the contract to avoid the obligation to close." View "Bathla v. 913 Market, LLC" on Justia Law

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Appellee The Bank of New York Mellon, f/k/a The Bank of New York brought a foreclosure proceeding against Appellants J.M. and and Kathy Shrewsbury. The Bank was not the original mortgagee; it received the Shrewsbury mortgage by an assignment from the original mortgagee. The Shrewsburys answered the complaint asserting that the note representing the debt secured by the mortgage had not been assigned to The Bank. They further asserted that since the note had not been assigned to The Bank, it did not have the right to enforce the underlying debt and, therefore, did not have the right to foreclose on the mortgage. The Superior Court rejected the Shrewsburys' argument and granted summary judgment to The Bank. The narrow question presented on appeal was whether a party holding a mortgage must have the right to enforce the obligation secured by the mortgage in order to conduct a foreclosure proceeding. After review, the Supreme Court held that a mortgage assignee must be entitled to enforce the underlying obligation which the mortgage secures in order to foreclose on the mortgage. Accordingly, the Court reversed the trial court and remanded for further proceedings. View "Shrewsbury v. The Bank of New York Mellon" on Justia Law

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The New Castle County Office of Assessment (“New Castle County”) valued office condominium units for real property tax purposes but failed to take into account depreciation. The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the New Castle County Board of Assessment Review (the “Board”) upholding New Castle County’s valuation. The property owner appealed, arguing that its office condominium units were over-assessed because New Castle County and the Board did not factor in the age and resulting depreciation of the units. Because Delaware law required that all relevant factors bearing on the value of a property (in its current condition) be considered, the Delaware Supreme Court reversed and required that New Castle County reassess the value of the units, taking into account the influence depreciation has on their taxable value. View "Commerce Associates, LP, et al. v. New Castle County Office of Assessment, et al." on Justia Law

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This was a case between the owner of a manufactured homes community, Bon Ayre Land, LLC (Landowner), and an association that represented the affected homeowners, Bon Ayre Community Association (HOA) about what Delaware law required the Landowner to show to increase rent above inflation. Their dispute arose under Chapter 70 of Title 25 of the Delaware Code, commonly known as the "Rent Justification Act." To raise rent by more than inflation, the Act set out three conditions a landowner had to satisfy. One condition required the owner show that the proposed increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the manufactured home community, and justified by one or more factors listed under subsection (c). The one factor at issue here was market rent: that rent which would result from market forces absent an unequal bargaining position between the community owner and the home owners. Among its many arguments, the Landowner argued that the Superior Court erred in giving effect to the word "and," and that the Landowner ought to have been allowed to justify a rent increase based on market rent alone. The Landowner admitted that it failed to present any evidence of its proposed rent increases being directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community. But, the Landowner argued that the Act could not be read sensibly as it was plainly written and that the term "and" in section 7042(a)(2) should have been read as "or." Contrary to the Landowner's argument, the Delaware Supreme Court found nothing "absurd" about the use of "and" in joining section 7042's three conditions. "Consistent with proper principles of interpretation, the Superior Court gave effect to the clear language of the Act and gave it an interpretation that is consistent with the Act's stated purpose." Because the Landowner concededly made no showing that its proposed rental increase was directly related to operating, maintaining or improving the community, the Superior Court properly reversed the arbitrator's ruling that the Landowner could raise rents in excess of CPI-U. View "Bon Ayre Land, LLC v. Bon Ayre Community Association" on Justia Law

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In 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed without prejudice a condemnation proceeding by plaintiff-appellee, the State of Delaware Department of Transportation (“DelDOT”), against the defendants-appellants, Jack and Mary Ann Lawson. Thereafter, the Lawsons moved for an award of litigation expenses and costs, which the Superior Court denied. The Lawsons appealed that order, claiming they were entitled to reimbursement for the litigation expenses they incurred by virtue of the condemnation proceeding, under both the Real Property Acquisition Act, and the common law bad faith exception to the so-called “American Rule.” They also claimed they were statutorily entitled to an award of costs. As a matter of first impression, the Supreme Court construed certain language in 29 Del. C. 9503, and held that that provision required reimbursement for litigation expenses related to a condemnation proceeding where a court determines that the subject property cannot be acquired by the governmental entity’s particular exercise of its underlying eminent domain power in that specific proceeding. Accordingly, the Court determined that the Superior Court erred by denying the Lawsons' motion for litigation expenses under 29 Del. C. 9503. The Court also concluded, however, that the Superior Court correctly determined that the Lawsons were not entitled to litigation expenses under the bad faith exception to the American Rule. Finally, the Court held that the Superior Court erred by not addressing the Lawsons' application for costs. View "Lawson v. Delaware" on Justia Law