Tenants "locked out" are allowed to collect exemplary damages; verdict upheldThe Court of Appeals this week upheld a Grayling verdict on behalf of Gary and Patricia Christie against Charles L. Fick and his company. The Christies had rented a cabin from Fick for seven years. When Ms. Christie did not have the wherewithal to pay that month's rent on Fick's demand, and was asked to return when Mr. Christie returned from an errand, Fick apparently decided to resort to self help. He returned while the Christies were not at home, removed and stored their belongings, and locked the Christie's out of the cabin, in violation of MCL 600.2918. Their property was subsequently damaged in storage.
The Christies sued and recovered a verdict for nearly $300,000.00, including exemplary damages and attorney's fees. The Landlord, Fick, appealed, arguing that the verdict and judgment wrongly inflated the damages owed. On appeal, each of the landlord's objections was rejected. The Court found, unanimously by the way, that the jury was properly instructed and that the Christies were entitled to recover for the mental anguish they suffered at the Landlord's hands due to the humilliation, outrage and indignity associated with the landlord's illegal actions. The Court also concluded that under the "anti-lockout" statute, once the Christies were refused the return of their property, they had met their duty to "mitigate" their damages.
Lastly, the Court found that the jury was within its province in failing to award Fick his final month's rent. There was testimony from which the jury could conclude that the Christies attempted to comply with the parties' consistent rental payment arrangement, and that Fick was responsible for failing to collect.