Robinson v. Diamond Housing Corporation


Court: CD Circuit Court

Facts: Diamond has been trying to get rid of Mrs. Robinson for years. She's a month-to-month tenant, and she's been withholding rent because of various violations. Now she's out, because there was no heat and all the pipes froze. Diamond alleges this is because she wasn't paying the rent, so it was sort of voluntary on her part.

Posture: Lots of litigation back and forth.

Issue: Can landlords exploit Southall to say their leases are void, and claim they're taking the property off the market?

Holding: No. This is an end-run around Edwards

Rule: We are not going to render the rights protected in Javins and Southall nugatory.

Reasoning: It is true that vigorous code enforcement may drive low-cost housing off the market. But we don't want landlords exploiting the system by letting some properties go to waste just to intimidate tenants.

If landlords are motivated by a desire to punish tenants for their complaints, then Edwards says that's impermissable. It's up to the landlord in these situations to prove that the motive is legitimate. Mere desire to take a unit off the market is not per se a legitimate business reason: there's a difference between going out of business altogether and discontinuing a part of an enterprise in order to benefit the rest of it, and motive can be a problem here.

We can't permit selfish motivations to undermine a legislative scheme for addressing the public's needs.

Dicta: Dissent: Landlords should not be treated as public utilities. The only restriction they should be held to is that they can't make rental decisions based on suspect categories.