Centrix Management Company, LLC v. Valencia
The reciprocal attorneys' fee provision in the consumer contracts statute, Connecticut General Statutes §42-150bb, applies to landlord-tenant rental agreements. Centrix Management Company, LLC brought this summary process action against Estephanie Valencia and Jose Sanchez, alleging a failure to pay rent and remaining in possession of the apartment despite the time passing given in the notice to quit. The trial court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that the plaintiff did not terminate the lease by unequivocal notice to quit as required. The plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The plaintiff filed a motion seeking the use and occupancy moneys paid into court during the appeal. The defendants objected and moved for attorneys' fees under C.G.S. §42-150bb, as the prevailing party in the motion to dismiss and appeal. The trial court granted the defendants' motion for attorneys' fees, awarding the defendants $9375. The court ordered the $9240 in use and occupancy payments equally distributed between the parties—$4620 to each. The plaintiff appealed. The Appellate Court affirmed the award of attorneys' fees under C.G.S. §42-150bb, but reversed the distribution of use and occupancy payments. The plaintiff unsuccessfully claimed that C.G.S. §42-150bb should not be read to apply to landlord-tenant rental agreements. It was undisputed that the defendants successfully defended this summary process action, obtaining a dismissal upheld on appeal, and that the written lease agreement between the parties contained a provision for the plaintiff's recovery of attorneys' fees. Under the panel's plain reading of the statute, residential landlord-tenant lease agreements are included in the provisions of C.G.S. §42-150bb. No ambiguity permitted resort to legislative history. Seeking attorneys' fees under C.G.S. §42-150bb in summary process actions pursuant to the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Traystman, Coric Keramididad, P.C. v. Daigle, would not thwart the purpose behind the summary process statutes. Under Daigle, such claims must be brought by motion pursuant to Practice Book §11-21 within 30 days after final judgment is rendered or an appellate decision. The trial court erred in ordering the use and occupancy payments distributed to the defendants for attorneys' fees. The standard in distributing use and occupancy payments is whether the claim for their release is related to the use and occupancy of the premises.