The Center successfully sought publication of the opinion in Peviani v. Arbors at California Oak, a decision from the Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, allowing a group of tenants to bring a class action lawsuit for breaches of the implied warranty of habitability, false advertising, and other claims.
The Court’s opinion applies the principles of class certification to a set of causes of action seldom seen in class action lawsuits: those arising from tenant protections. The plaintiffs are tenants of an apartment complex that was advertised as clean, safe, and luxurious, with many amenities. Unfortunately, according to the complaint, the complex instead featured overly full dumpsters, dog feces littering the grounds, pests in the apartments, and a lack of security that left the property vulnerable to violence and drug use. The plaintiffs also alleged that their security deposits were retained in bad faith.
Peviani is the first reported opinion to apply the principles of class certification to tenants filing a case based on a breach of the implied warranty of habitability and false advertising. The Court explained that the warranty of habitability cause of action was common to the class because the cleanliness and habitability of the common areas would be the same for everyone. The fact that members of the putative class might need to individually establish their damages did not detract from the commonality of the liability issue. Further, the Court of Appeal determined that the trial court relied on incorrect factors in denying class certification on the False Advertising Law claims, so those claims could proceed as well.
The opinion also discusses how to analyze class claims for wrongful retention of class members’ security deposits. The court highlighted an “interesting twist” to those claims: the plaintiffs had the burden of proving commonality, but defendants had the burden of proving the reasonableness of their security deposit deductions. The court concluded that the claims for retention of the security deposits had commonality because the deductions were essentially made by one person.
California has been suffering a housing crisis that has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. At a time when tenants are particularly vulnerable, and an avalanche of evictions is awaiting the courts, class actions can help tenants get access to justice.
This case thus represents an important principle: that claims shared by tenants can be tried together. Even in circumstances where individual tenants may have had different amounts deducted from their security deposits, or may not have run into the exact same overflowing dumpster on the same day, they all experienced common problems that should properly be tried together.
The Center’s letter seeking publication was joined by a prominent group of legal services organizations, including Bet Tzedek, Centro Legal de la Raza, Public Counsel, and Public Law Center.