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Sleep EZ v. Mateo

Superior Court of California, Appellate Division, Los Angeles

April 4, 2017

SLEEP EZ, Plaintiff and Appellant,
v.
MARTINIANO MATEO et al., Defendants and Respondents.

         APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Elaine Mandel, Judge. Affirmed. Central Trial Court No. 15U11111

          Law Office of Allen R. King and Allen R. King for Plaintiff and Appellant Sleep EZ.

          Neighborhood Legal Services, Alexander Prieto and Jeffrey Uno for Defendants and Respondents Martiniano Mateo and Maximina Mateo.

          OPINION

          RICCIARDULLI, Acting P. J.

         INTRODUCTION

         We hold here that, when a tenant mails rent at a landlord's direction and, through no fault of the tenant, the landlord does not receive it, the tenant is not in default in the payment of rent in an unlawful detainer action.

         Plaintiff and appellant Sleep EZ appeals the judgment in favor of defendants and respondents Martiniano Mateo and Maximina Mateo. Plaintiff contends the judgment should be reversed because it proved all the elements of its cause of action, including that defendants defaulted in paying their rent. As discussed below, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleged in its complaint that the parties had a written agreement wherein defendants were to pay rent in the amount of $523.98 per month, and defendants failed to pay rent as indicated in an attached three-day notice to pay or quit. On September 8, 2015, the statutory notice period expired with defendants neither paying rent nor vacating their apartment. Plaintiff requested it be awarded possession of the property, along with damages, attorney fees, and costs. The three-day notice indicated defendants were informed on September 5, 2015, that the rent of $523.98, which was due on September 1, 2015, had not been paid, and directed defendants to pay the rent or vacate the property. Defendants answered, generally denying the allegations in the complaint, including that they had defaulted in paying their rent, and the case proceeded to trial.

         At the court trial on October 15, 2015, plaintiff's manager, Victor Ricks, testified defendants rented one of plaintiff's apartments pursuant to a written rental agreement, a copy of which was admitted as an exhibit. The agreement required defendants to pay $523.98 in rent on the first of every month. Ricks instructed tenants to pay their rent by mail to a post office box address, and to always pay by money order. Ricks did not receive the September rent by September 5, 2015, so he prepared a three-day notice. The notice period expired, Ricks did not receive the rent, and defendants remained in possession of the apartment.

         Defendant Maximina Mateo testified Ricks instructed her family to pay the monthly rent by sending money orders to a post office box. On August 31, 2015, she purchased a United States Post Office money order in the amount of $523.98. On this same date, she mailed the money order to Ricks at the designated post office box address, as she had done for the past 30 years she had been living in the apartment with her family. A copy of the customer's receipt for the $523.98 paid to the post office for the money order was admitted into evidence. Ms. Mateo testified that, on the day of trial, she received the envelope she had sent to Ricks back from the post office with a yellow sticker stating it was undeliverable. The sealed envelope addressed to Ricks was admitted into evidence.

         Ms. Mateo's 17-year-old son, Henry Mateo, testified that, after the three-day notice was posted on their apartment door, he made five to six attempts to speak with Ricks by telephone to determine if the money order had been received. He reached Ricks only once, and Ricks told him he had not yet had a chance to check the post office box.

         On rebuttal, Ricks testified “he had never agreed that the mailing of the rent would constitute payment, whether the check was received or not.” Ricks further testified he never received or successfully negotiated defendants' money order for the September 2015 rent.

         The court rendered judgment in favor of defendants. In its statement of decision, the court indicated it found as follows: “1. Defendants purchased a money order for the full amount of the rent due for September [¶] 2. Defendants mailed the money order to Mr. Ricks, with postmark August 31, 2015 [¶] 3. The Lease states that rent is to be paid ‘to landlord by U.S. Mail.' [¶] 4. Mr. Ricks did not receive the money ...


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