Our 86-year-old client Mrs. M. Flippo, is a wheelchair bound senior who for the past 15 years had been living in HUD subsidized housing in Bibb County, a property specifically reserved for the low-income, elderly and disabled. Mrs. Flippo’s Landlord had been renovating several apartments in the community, when Mrs. Flippo requested that her apartment be painted and carpet replaced, as she had not had any major maintenance done since her move-in. After Mrs. Flippo’s request, the Landlord sent her a lease termination notice, claiming she had violated her lease when her grandson had brought her food (even though her grandson had been bringing her food for several years). The manager claimed Mrs. Flippo’s grandson was on the “no trespass” list due to him having been charged with possession of marijuana several years prior (his charges had been dismissed). Our Tuscaloosa Office Advocate tried the case in District Court, arguing that there had been no conviction of the grandson (the charges were dismissed), and therefore, his presence did not present a danger to the other tenants. Our Advocate also argued that the Landlord had arbitrarily placed the grandson on the “no trespass list” without going through law enforcement.
The District Court disregarded the arguments and entered judgment for the Landlord. Our Advocate teamed up with another Tuscaloosa Office Advocate, Ricky Chambless, and appealed the case to Circuit Court. On appeal, Discovery was conducted, and our team found that the Landlord had been accepting the HUD rent subsidy each and every month until the appeal was filed. Our Advocate demanded the Landlord dismiss the unlawful detainer action based on waiver, but the Landlord refused. Our team then filed a summary judgment motion on behalf of Mrs. Flippo. At the summary judgment hearing, our two Tuscaloosa Advocates successfully argued that the Alabama Residential Landlord & Tenant Act along with the Housing Authority of Birmingham v Durr decision left the court with no choice but to conclude that once the Landlord knew of any alleged breach by our client and then accepted the rent subsidy, they waived the right to evict our client.
After the hearing, the Court contacted our Tuscaloosa Office requesting an order granting summary judgment be submitted by LSA. The Court accepted the proposed order, finding the Landlord’s unlawful detainer claim was “without merit,” and granted summary judgment in favor of Mrs. Flippo and set a hearing on litigation expenses and distribution of the rent paid into Court by Ms. Flippo.
At the hearing, Staff Attorney Chambless successfully argued that the Landlord should pay attorney fees to LSA for maintaining an action that was without substantial legal merit under the Alabama Litigation Accountability Act. Additionally, our Advocate argued that the money be paid into Court by our client, Mrs. Flippo, should be seized and paid over to LSA to partially satisfy the attorney fee judgment. The Court agreed, and granted LSA a judgment against the Landlord for attorney fees in the amount of $14,230, and ordered the Circuit Clerk to pay all of the $3,260 paid into the Court by our client to LSA in partial satisfaction of the attorney fee judgment!
Thanks to our Tuscaloosa Advocates and Staff, a strong message has been sent to landlords that they must obey the law and respect their tenants, especially those in vulnerable situations like Ms. Flippo!
By: Ricky T. Chambless, Tuscaloosa Staff Attorney