may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (1996).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Leland W. Jacobs,
Filed September 1, 1998
Dakota County District Court
File No. C7-97-3060
Leland W. Jacobs, 2144 University Avenue, No. 9, St. Paul, MN 55114 (pro se appellant)
Considered and decided by Shumaker, Presiding Judge, Amundson, Judge, and Norton, Judge.[*]
Appellant, Leland Jacobs, challenges the issuance of a writ of restitution in favor of landlord, Gear Properties. We affirm.
In September 1997, Leland W. Jacobs and Jackie E. Ford entered into a residential lease agreement with landlord, Gear Properties, for a monthly rental of $690. Paragraph 16 of the lease agreement provided:
JOINT AND SEVERAL LIABILITY: Each RESIDENT is responsible for all debts or obligations of this lease not limited to a proportion of the total obligation.
In November 1997, the landlord brought an unlawful detainer action against Jacobs and Ford for failing to pay the November rent.
At the trial, Jacobs testified that he had paid his portion of the rent and admitted that he had not paid Ford's portion. As defenses, Jacobs contended that the landlord induced Ford to move to another apartment and thereby made it impossible for him to perform the lease; that the landlord decreased services by interfering with the heat control and by tampering with the toilets; and that the landlord brought the action in retaliation for Jacobs refusal of the landlord's request that he move to another apartment unit. Jacobs argued that the landlord's conduct breached the lease, violated the duty of good faith and fair dealing, and denied him the right of due process.
The district court found that Jacobs had not: (1) paid the full rent due; (2) filed an answer in the action; or (3) deposited the delinquent rent with the court as required by Minn. Stat. § 504.02, subd. 1(a) (1996). The district court concluded that the landlord was entitled to restitution and ordered Jacobs to vacate the premises. Jacobs then offered to pay the delinquent rent.
An unlawful detainer action is a summary remedy for obtaining possession of premises wrongfully held by a tenant after nonpayment of rent. Fritz v. Warthen, 298 Minn. 54, 58, 213 N.W.2d 339, 341 (1973). Generally, the only issue for trial is whether the facts alleged in the complaint are true. See Minn. Stat. § 566.15 (1996); see also Minneapolis Community Dev. Agency v. Smallwood, 379 N.W.2d 554, 555 (Minn. App. 1985), review denied (Minn. Feb. 19, 1986). If a court finds that the allegations are true, the plaintiff is entitled to a writ of restitution. Minn. Stat. § 566.09, subd. 1 (1996).
The standard of review is whether the trial court's findings of fact are clearly erroneous. Smallwood, 379 N.W.2d at 555. This court, however, need not give deference to the trial court's decision on issues of law. Frost-Benco Elec. Ass'n v. Minnesota Pub. Utils. Comm'n, 358 N.W.2d 639, 642 (Minn. 1984).
On appeal Jacobs contends that the evidence establishes his defenses and that district court's findings of fact were inadequate as a matter of law. Findings of fact in an unlawful detainer action are governed by Minn. Stat. § 566.15, which provides:
The * * * finding of the court in favor of the plaintiff in an action under this chapter shall be substantially in the following form:
At a court held at _____, on the _____ day of _____, 19_____, before _____, a judge in and for the county of _____ in an action between _____, plaintiff, and _____, defendant, * * * the court find that the facts alleged in the complaint are true, and the said plaintiff ought to have restitution of the premises therein described without delay.
If the verdict or finding be for the defendant, it shall be sufficient to find that the facts alleged in the complaint are not true.
The complaint alleged that Jacobs owed rent. Jacobs admitted that he owed rent. The court found, and the evidence clearly established, that the allegations of the complaint were true. No further findings were legally required. Minn. Stat. § 566.15.
Jacobs' defenses of collusion and breach of various convenants all raised substantial credibility issues. Jacobs, Ford and the landlord testified at the trial and the district court was able to assess their credibility. See State ex rel. Trimble v. Hedman, 291 Minn. 442, 456, 192 N.W.2d 432, 440 (1971) (appellate courts defer to fact finder's determination of witness credibility). It is not necessary to set forth in detail the evidence respecting Jacobs' defenses, for the record does not support those defenses. See Engquist v. Wirtjes, 243 Minn. 502, 503, 68 N.W.2d 412, 414 (1955) (appellate court need not make detailed statement of record). As an example, Jacobs' claim that the landlord interfered with his habitability because of the problems with heat and the toilets is not supported by the evidence. Jacobs never complained about such alleged problems and he paid his portion of the rent despite the alleged lack of habitability.
As to Jacobs' retaliatory eviction defense, the landlord had the burden of proving a nonretaliatory reason for the unlawful detainer action. See Parkin v. Fitzgerald, 307 Minn. 423, 431, 240 N.W.2d 828, 832-33 (1976) (landlord must establish a substantial nonretaliatory reason for eviction unrelated to any protected, good faith activity by tenant). Jacobs admitted that he did not pay all the rent due. A failure to pay rent when due is a proper legal basis for an eviction. Id. The evidence does not support any other reason for the eviction.
Jacobs' claim of due process violations is based on his allegation that testimony of the landlord and Ford was untrue and that Jacobs did not have an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses against him. "Due process requires that a hearing be fair, practicable, and reasonable." Moberg v. Moberg, 374 N.W.2d 332, 335 (Minn. App. 1985) (quoting Saturnini v. Saturnini, 260 Minn. 494, 498, 110 N.W.2d 480, 483 (1961)), review denied (Minn. Dec. 13, 1985). Once again, the dispositive uncontested fact is that Jacobs failed to pay the entire rent when due. This fact is independently sufficient to support the unlawful detainer judgment, and cross-examination would have no bearing on it. Thus, a denial of the opportunity to cross-examine could not have prejudiced Jacobs or denied him due process. Any error predicated on a denial of cross-examination was harmless. See Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (harmless error to be ignored). Furthermore, cross-examination as to Jacobs' defenses would still leave the district court with the same credibility issues that existed without the cross-examination. Jacobs testified to one version of the facts and Ford and the landlord to another. Unless, through Jacobs' cross-examination, Ford and the landlord recanted their testimony, an improbable outcome of a pro se party's unsophisticated attempts to try a case, the court would have to resolve the identical credibility issues it ultimately resolved against Jacobs.
Finally, Jacobs argues that the district court erred in not accepting his offer of payment of rent after the court had ordered restitution. Jacobs bases his argument on the wording of Minn. Stat. § 504.02, subd. 1(a) (1996), which provides:
[I]f, at any time before possession has been delivered to the plaintiff on recovery in the action, the lessee * * * pays to the plaintiff or brings into court the amount of the rent then in arrears, * * *, the lessee or successor may be restored to the possession and hold the property according to the terms of the original lease unless an action is pending under section 566.03, subdivision 5, for recovery of the property alleging a material violation of the lease.
This statute permits the district court, in its discretion, to accept a rent deposit and to restore the tenant to possession. See Scroggins v. Solchaga, 552 N.W.2d 248, 251-52 (Minn. App. 1996) (holding that use of "may" in certain statutes showed that no particular remedy was mandatory and court had broad discretion to select remedy appropriate to case), review denied (Minn. Oct. 29, 1996); see also Minn. Stat. § 645.44, subd. 15 (1996) ("`[m]ay' is permissive"). The statute requires, however, that the deposit be made and the acceptance occur "before possession has been delivered to the plaintiff * * * ." Minn. Stat. § 504.02, subd. 1(a) (1966). The trial had been completed, the restitution order issued, and possession legally delivered to the landlord before Jacobs offered to deposit the rent. The landlord at that point was legally entitled to possession of the premises. The district court cannot abuse its discretion by following the law. Further, Jacobs cites no authority supporting his assertion that the district court was required to accept his offer of payment. See Schoepke v. Alexander Smith & Sons Carpet Co., 290 Minn. 518, 519-20, 187 N.W.2d 133, 135 (Minn. 1971) (an assignment of error based on mere assertion not supported by any argument or authorities is waived unless prejudicial error is obvious). No prejudicial error is apparent.
[*] Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.