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Bennett v. Rose

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

April 5, 2018

James M. Bennett, Appellant
v.
Natasha Rose and Courtney Wren

          Submitted: February 9, 2018

          BEFORE: HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge, HONORABLE JAMES GARDNER COLINS, Senior Judge

          OPINION

          PATRICIA A. McCULLOUGH, Judge

         James M. Bennett (Landlord) appeals from the November 21, 2016 order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County (trial court) finding in favor of Natasha Rose and Courtney Wren (collectively, Tenants) with respect to a breach of contract complaint initiated by Landlord.

         Facts and Procedural History

         The following facts are garnered from the trial court's opinion in this matter as well as the original record. Landlord is the owner of property located at 2627 South Carroll Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (the property). Landlord and Tenants executed a lease for the property, commencing December 1, 2010. The lease ran for a period of two years, until November 30, 2012, at which point the lease was automatically renewed on a month-to-month basis. On October 9, 2015, Landlord filed a landlord/tenant complaint in Philadelphia Municipal Court seeking to recover $2, 210.07 in monetary damages from Tenants, including unpaid rent and utilities, late fees, attorney's fees, court costs, and other expenses. Landlord also sought a judgment for possession of the property. Approximately one month later, Tenants vacated the property without providing Landlord with the required 60-day notice under the lease. On January 5, 2016, the Philadelphia Municipal Court entered a monetary judgment in favor of Landlord in the amount of $1, 109.28 plus $95.50 in costs. Landlord appealed to the trial court.

         On February 26, 2016, Landlord filed a separate breach of contract complaint with the trial court alleging that Tenants failed to abide by the terms of the lease and seeking monetary damages in the amount of $11, 138.85, [1] which, in addition to the damages sought in the prior complaint, also included the cost of repairs resulting from the substantial damage to the property that Landlord allegedly discovered after Tenants had vacated the property. Following service of this complaint on Tenants and their lack of response, Landlord subsequently filed a praecipe for entry of default judgment in the amount of $11, 738.85, a praecipe to issue a writ of attachment, and a notice of intent to attach Tenants' wages. Tenants thereafter filed separate petitions to open judgment, alleging that they were never served with the complaint. Landlord filed answers in opposition to these petitions. By order dated September 30, 2016, the trial court granted the Tenants' petitions, directed them to file an answer to Landlord's complaint by November 1, 2016, and scheduled trial for November 21, 2016.

         The trial court conducted a bench trial on this date and entered an order that same day finding in favor of Tenants and against Landlord.[2] As for the reasoning of its order, the trial court stated, "No evidence presented regarding a Certificate of Rental Suitability and booklet on Partners for Good Housing given to [Tenants]." Landlord thereafter filed a motion for reconsideration on December 2, 2016, asking the trial court to reverse its decision and enter judgment in his favor. Landlord set forth several reasons in support of his requested reversal, including that the provision of the City of Philadelphia's Property Maintenance Code requiring a Certificate of Rental Suitability was not in effect until 18 months after the parties herein executed their lease and was not retroactive; the lease also pre-dated any requirement to provide a tenant with the booklet on Partners for Good Housing; even if these requirements applied, the same only barred recovery of possession and rent and, here, the majority of the monies sought by Landlord related to damages; Tenants never filed an answer to Landlord's complaint and raised no defense to his claims in writing or at trial; and the trial court improperly raised defenses for Tenants sua sponte.[3]

         Shortly thereafter, on December 22, 2016, Landlord filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court.[4] By order dated December 23, 2016, the trial court directed Landlord to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Landlord complied with this order and reiterated the issues raised in its motion for reconsideration. The trial court then issued an opinion in support of its order stating that Landlord's failure to file any post-trial motions in accordance with Pa.R.C.P. No. 227.1 resulted in his failure to preserve any issues for appeal and the waiver of any issues raised in his concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. The trial court further concluded that the motion for reconsideration filed by Landlord was not a post-trial motion, citing Moore v. Moore, 634 A.2d 163 (Pa. 1993), and Crystal Lake Camps v. Alford, 923 A.2d 482 (Pa. Super. 2007), for support.

         Discussion

         On appeal to this Court, [5] Landlord reiterates the arguments raised in his motion for reconsideration and concise statement of errors complained of on appeal. Landlord also argues that the trial court erred in failing to consider his motion for reconsideration as a post-trial motion.

         We begin with Landlord's latter argument. Pa.R.C.P. No. 227.1 provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(a) After trial and upon the written Motion for Post-Trial Relief filed by any ...

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