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Gari Calhoun et al v. James R. Coffron et al

March 29, 2011

GARI CALHOUN ET AL., PLAINTIFFS AND APPELLANTS,
v.
JAMES R. COFFRON ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND RESPONDENTS.



(Super. Ct. No. CV16320)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Duarte ,j.

Calhoun v. Coffron CA3

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED

California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115.

Gari*fn1 and Unique Calhoun (Tenant) leased space from James and Judith Coffron (Landlord) for the thrift store, Weekend Things, but fell behind on the rent and were evicted. Landlord believed the personal property that Tenant left behind, primarily inventory of the thrift store, was "junk" or "trash" and disposed of it without waiting 15 days to give Tenant an opportunity to reclaim it. Tenant brought suit against Landlord for conversion. After a court trial, the trial court found in favor of Landlord; Tenant appealed. Tenant contends that the trial court misconstrued the law on the disposal of a tenant's property after the end of the tenancy and erroneously failed to consider Tenant's multiple objections to the statement of decision.

As we will explain, in order to achieve statutory immunity from liability, Landlord was required to hold Tenant's property for 15 days, in order to give Tenant the opportunity to reclaim it. Landlord did not do so. However, Tenant failed to show conversion, as it could not show its ability and intent to reclaim its personal property within the statutory time limit, and thus could not show damage. We shall affirm.

FACTS

Tenant operated a thrift store, Weekend Things. It took over the business, including the lease, from God's Helping Hands, which had also been operating as a thrift store. In January 2007,*fn2 Tenant entered into a lease with Landlord for a 2640-square-foot industrial unit at 323 West La Cadena Drive in Riverside County. The term of the lease was for one year beginning March 1, and the monthly rent was $1,375. The startup costs of the business were higher than Tenant had expected. From the start, Tenant had trouble paying the rent; it never made a full payment.

In May, Landlord filed an unlawful detainer action and took a default judgment. The court issued a writ of possession and the sheriff served Tenant with a notice to vacate. The notice indicated that the eviction day was Tuesday, July 3, at 6:01 a.m. The notice to vacate advised Tenant: "All personal property upon the premises at that time will be turned over to the landlord, who must return said personal property to you upon payment of the reasonable cost incurred by landlord in storing the property from the date of eviction to the date of payment. If the property is stored on the landlord's premises, the reasonable cost of storage is the fair rental value of the space necessary for the time of storage. If you do not pay the reasonable storage cost and take possession within fifteen (15) days, the landlord may either sell your property at a public sale and keep from the proceeds of the sale the costs of storage and of the sale (1988 CCC), or, if the property is valued at less than $300.00, the landlord may dispose of your property or retain it for his own use. (715.010(b)(3), 1174 CCP)."

Tenant vacated the property on July 3. It gave the keys to a neighboring tenant.

A deputy sheriff served an eviction restoration notice on July 6. The notice could have been served on July 3, the original eviction date, but due to scheduling and other factors, service was delayed until July 6. It stated that by virtue of a writ of execution for possession of real property, the property was restored to the landlord on the eviction date. The notice further advised Tenant, "Pursuant to California Civil Procedure sections 715.010(b)(3) and 715.030, all personal property left on the premises has been turned over to the landlord. The landlord is responsible for safe keeping of tenant's property for fifteen (15) days from the date of eviction. The landlord may charge a reasonable fee for removal and storage of the property. However, upon demand of the tenant, the landlord must return the tenant's property if the tenant pays all costs incurred by the property owner for storage and maintenance. If the costs are not paid by the tenant and the tenant does not take possession of the property left behind before the end of the fifteen (15) day period, the landlord may either sell the property at public sale and keep from the proceeds of the sale the costs of storage and of the sale (1988 CCC). If the property is valued at less than $300.00, the landlord may dispose of the property or retain it for his own use. (1174 CCP)."

Landlord hired real estate agent Cheryl Wilson to clean up the property after Tenant left. On July 3, she picked up the keys, inspected the property, took pictures and locked up. Wilson told Landlord that the property was a mess. She claimed that the premises looked like a bomb had gone off inside; there were food wrappers, rotting food, and "stuff" piled all over. When she turned on the light in the back room, she heard scurrying and saw rat droppings.

Landlord told Wilson she needed to get rid of the "stuff," which she also characterized at various times as "junk," or "garbage." She ordered a total of five dumpsters: four roll-offs and a small top loader. The dumpsters were ordered July 6, 10, 12, 17 and 19. The July 6 dumpster was a full one that Tenant had left behind; Wilson had to put it in her name and pay Tenant's $800 bill to get it removed. All dumpsters were loaded and removed from the property by July 19. While the dumpsters were outside of the building, third parties used them to dispose of items such as mattresses, broken down furniture and construction materials. Landlord spent $5,616.94 for dumpsters, cleaning, unpaid utility bills, supplies, repairs, and three "No Dumping" signs.

About 10 days after the eviction, Tenant Gari Calhoun's brother notified him of the presence of dumpsters at the store site and that his property was being thrown out. The next day, Calhoun drove by and saw people going through the dumpster and taking his "stuff."

Tenant never contacted Landlord about reclaiming the personal property that it had left behind. Instead, after the 15 days had passed, it filed a complaint against Landlord for conversion.*fn3 It claimed the property Landlord destroyed was worth $60,000. It also sought damages for extreme emotional distress and punitive damages.

At trial, Tenant testified about the personal property thrown away by Landlord. It provided pictures from when the store was in operation. It used these pictures to compile a list of the property left behind, which it valued at over $60,000. It claimed it had left a 19-foot wall display cabinet that had been purchased for $2,500. Additional items of property that it claimed had been thrown away included a soda machine worth $1,500, display cabinets, an eight-foot pile of clothes, and several bags of vintage clothing. A recycler who was at the store the evening that Tenant moved out testified to a "mountain" of clothing, much of which was still there after Tenant ...


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