This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1998).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
City View Apartments,
Silvia Lopez Sanchez,
Silvia Lopez Sanchez,
Michael Krey, et al.,
Filed August 1, 2000
Reversed and remanded
Hennepin County District Court
File Nos. UD-1991004510 and UD-991004900
Kenneth Hertz, Hertz & Associates, 3853 Central Avenue N.E., Columbia Heights, MN 55421 (for respondents)
Richard A. Wayman, Timothy L. Thompson, Law Office of the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis, 2507 Fremont Avenue North, Minneapolis, MN 55411 (for appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Schumacher, Judge, and Harten, Judge.
Appellant Silvia Lopez Sanchez appeals adverse determinations in her tenant remedies action and respondent City View's unlawful detainer action. She also seeks attorney fees and costs. We reverse and remand for further findings.
City View Apartments is a 93-unit residential apartment complex in Minneapolis. Sylvia Lopez Sanchez (Lopez), one of the month-to-month tenants, helped organize and conduct meetings for Spanish-speaking tenants regarding repairs needed in the apartment units and the common areas.
Lopez helped collect and organize lists of needed repairs and assisted tenants in completing written repair requests. Lopez gave some of the requests to Timothy Krey, a City View manager.
Krey attended several of the tenant meetings. But when he attempted to attend the meeting on August 28, 1999, Lopez asked him to leave. He did so.
On August 30, 1999, Krey gave Lopez notice that City View would terminate her lease at the end of September. He did not state a reason for the termination at that time.
Lopez held over and, on the premise that her termination was retaliatory, she commenced a tenant remedies action. City View responded with an unlawful detainer action. The trial court consolidated the matters, tried them together in a bench trial, and issued a separate order for each lawsuit.
In the unlawful detainer action, the court found that the notice to vacate was proper and that Lopez held over. The court incorporated as its findings of fact, with two exceptions, City View's posttrial memorandum.
In the tenant remedies action, the court referred to the unlawful detainer finding that the notice to vacate was proper and concluded that, because of the proper notice, there were no grounds for the tenant remedies action.
Lopez appeals the rulings in both proceedings.
D E C I S I O N
“The standard of review on appeal from a civil judgment is whether the evidence sustains the findings and whether the findings support the conclusions.” Minneapolis Pub. Hous. Auth. v. Greene, 463 N.W.2d 558, 560 (Minn. App. 1990). Findings of fact shall not be set aside unless clearly erroneous. Minn. R. Civ. P. 52.01. However, we are not bound by and need not give deference to a trial court’s decision on a purely legal issue. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
A landlord may bring an eviction action to recover the possession of real property from an at-will tenant who holds over after the landlord has terminated the tenancy by a notice to quit. Minn. Stat. § 504B.285, subd. 1(3) (Supp. 1999). There is no dispute that Lopez was an at-will tenant and that City View gave her a timely notice to quit.
As a defense to an eviction action based on a notice to quit, a tenant may prove that the termination "was intended in whole or part as a penalty for the [tenant’s] good faith attempt to secure or enforce rights under a lease * * *.” Minn. Stat. § 504B.285, subd. 2(1) (Supp. 1999). If the notice to quit is served within 90 days after a tenant's good-faith attempt to secure or enforce lease rights, the burden of proof that the notice to quit was not retaliatory shifts to the landlord. Id., subd. 2(2) (Supp. 1999).
The trial court found that the notice to vacate was proper, that Lopez held over, and that Lopez violated a lease covenant by interfering with City View's management. As additional findings of fact, the court incorporated nearly all of City View's posttrial memorandum.
We have previously cautioned trial courts against merely incorporating an advocate's proposed findings and conclusions, saying that the
wholesale adoption of one party's findings and conclusions raises the question of whether the trial court independently evaluated each party's testimony and evidence.
The trial court must scrupulously assure that findings and conclusions - whether they be the court's alone, one or the other party’s, or a combination - are always detailed, specific and sufficient enough to enable meaningful review by this court.
Bliss v. Bliss, 493 N.W.2d 583, 590 (Minn. App. 1992) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Feb. 12, 1993).
Here, the trial court adopted an advocate's legal memorandum that contained both an interpretation of testimony and one party's legal argument. We do not doubt that the trial court made an independent review of the evidence and that its adoption of the memorandum was not perfunctory. Yet the hazards identified in Bliss remain.
Furthermore, some of the findings ostensibly contradict the court's conclusions. City View's memorandum summarized Lopez's beliefs that Krey gave the notice to vacate
because of [Lopez's] involvement in organizing the group * * *,
because Mr. Krey was refused entry to the August 28, 1999 meetings * * *,
[and] because she was the facilitator and leader of the group attempting to organize.
Presumably, the court rejected Lopez's observations as to the reasons for her eviction. But that is not clear from the order, which adopts those observations. If adopted as facts, Lopez's observations would tend to support her claim that the eviction was retaliatory.
A residential tenant may not be evicted if the eviction "is intended as a penalty for the residential tenant's or housing-related neighborhood organization's complaint of a violation." Minn. Stat. § 504B.441 (Supp. 1999). "Violation" includes not only noncompliance with an applicable governmental code but the breach of habitability and repair covenants as well. Minn. Stat. § 504 B.001, subd. 14 (Supp. 1999). There is evidence in the record that Lopez complained of an alleged breach of habitability and repair covenants.
Because of the timing of the notice to vacate, the trial court needed to decide whether the burden shifted to City View to show
a substantial nonretaliatory reason for the eviction, arising at or within a reasonably short time before service of the notice to quit. A nonretaliatory reason is a reason wholly unrelated to and unmotivated by any good-faith activity on the part of the tenant * * *.
Parkin v. Fitzgerald, 307 Minn. 423, 430, 240 N.W.2d 828, 832 (1976). The court cautioned that
even a legitimate business purpose must be closely examined to ensure that it is not contrived or colored in any way by tenants' protected activities.
Id. The trial court's order does not reflect a Parkin analysis and does not contain the requisite findings under the applicable statutes and Parkin. Without findings on essential issues, we are unable to determine whether or not the trial court erred in its conclusions. Frost-Benco, 358 N.W.2d at 642.
Tenant Remedies Action
A residential tenant may bring an action to remedy code or lease covenant violations. Minn. Stat. § 504B.395, subd. 1 (Supp. 1999).
In Lopez's tenant remedies action, the trial court held that because the notice to vacate was not retaliatory Lopez had no grounds for the action. The holding was based on the findings and conclusions in the unlawful detainer action. The findings in that action were inadequate, and, thus, they cannot support the holding in the tenant remedies action.
Lopez requested an award of attorney fees under Minn. Stat. § 504B.425(g) (Supp. 1999). That statute allows the trial court to award a maximum of $500 in attorney fees to a prevailing party. Because this matter must be remanded for findings, the issue of attorney fees is properly left to the trial court.
These consolidated actions are remanded for adequate findings. The trial court shall have discretion to reopen the record.
Reversed and remanded.
 This was formerly designated by statute as an unlawful detainer action.