A simple small claims case over non-payment of rent and utilities has turned into a complex preliminary injunction matter after a landlord turned off the electricity and water supply to his tenant's apartment unit before their scheduled court hearing.
Superior Court Associate Judge Joseph N. Camacho on Friday ruled that, although tenant Zaji Zajradhara has not demonstrated that he had asked landlord Jesus S. Barcinas to correct the situation, the power and water supply were apparently cut in an attempt at a self-help eviction, thus a request for a correction would likely be futile.
Camacho determined that Zajradhara has shown a likelihood of success in his claim for a breach of implied warranty of habitability.
“Here, the harm from not having power and water is likely to affect the livelihood, health, and well-being of a residential tenant, which is extremely difficult to calculate,” the judge said.
The tenant, the judge said, presented evidence that he is currently employed and needs water as a basic necessity.
“Once his power was cut the food in his refrigerator went bad,” said Camacho, saying that courts consider this type of harm irreparable.
In issuing the preliminary injunction, Camacho prohibited Barcinas from employing self-help actions to evict Zajradhara, including changing the lock, shutting off the power or water, or entering the apartment without reasonable notice and permission from the tenant.
The judge also ordered Barcinas to immediately restore water and electricity to the tenant's unit.
Camacho, however, directed Zajradhara to deposit to the court $364.77 based on the amount that Barcinas says he owes in rent and electricity.
According to court records, Barcinas brought a small claims case for rent and utilities against the tenant on Dec. 4, 2012. He said the tenant owes him $918.88.
On Jan. 10, 2013, the court held a prejudgment hearing, and set the matter for an evidentiary hearing on Feb. 7, 2013.
Zajradhara then filed in court a petition for emergency relief, claiming that on Jan. 11, 2013, Barcinas turned off the electricity and water in his apartment “in violation of Public Law 10-67.”
The tenant asked the court to issue an order requiring Barcinas to reconnect water and electricity and “to not attempt a forced lockout.”
In his ruling, Camacho said the testimony demonstrates that Barcinas caused the water and electricity to be turned off in Zajradhara's residential apartment. In this case, Camacho said, injunctive relief is favored by public policy considerations.
Camacho pointed to the Holdover Tenancy Act that provides a landlord with a means to evict a tenant, and requires notice to terminate a periodic tenancy.
The judge said he views the landlord's attempt at self-help against a residential tenant to be against public policy.
“The right to quiet possession in one's home is sacred and should not be disturbed until or unless the landlord makes an appropriate showing,” Camacho said.