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Constructive eviction does not require a finding that the landlord had the express intention of depriving the tenant of enjoyment of the premises because persons are presumed to intend the natural and probable consequences of their acts. Instead, all that is required is that the landlord committed wrongful acts or omissions which rendered the leased premises useless to the tenant or deprived the tenant, in whole or in part, of the possession and enjoyment of the premises.
The landlord, Austin 1990 Building and the tenants, Midwest Exchange Enterprises and its president, Alejandro Rodriguez, entered into a contract of commercial lease for warehouse and office space in an industrial park. The lease obligated the landlord to maintain heating systems for the premises at its own expense. The landlord filed a complaint against the tenant for unpaid rent. In its defense, the tenant asserted that it withheld rent beyond the due date in order to force the landlord to supply heat to the premises. The tenant alleged that it was forced to abandon the premises. The trial court held that the tenant had proven its affirmative defense of constructive eviction. The landlord argued that the trial court erred in finding that the tenant was constructively evicted from the premises.
Did the trial court err in holding that the tenant was constructively evicted from the premises?
The Court noted that a constructive eviction required that the landlord have done something of a grave and permanent character with the intention of depriving the tenant of enjoyment of the premises. All that was required was that the landlord committed wrongful acts or omissions which rendered the leased premises useless to the tenant or deprived the tenant, in whole or in part, of the possession and enjoyment of the premises. In this case, the Court held that there was sufficient evidence to support the trial court’s judgment of constructive eviction. The tenant complained of a lack of heat during two months of the winter season but the landlord was "indifferent" and made no attempt to fix the problem. The tenant remained in the premises and the same problem arose two months later. According to the Court, the lack of heat deprived the tenant of the use and enjoyment of the premises. Thus, the judgment was affirmed.
The circuit court's finding of constructive eviction was not against the manifest weight of the evidence where the record shows that the landlord repeatedly withheld heat from the tenant. The landlord may not appeal the denial of its motion to strike the tenant's affirmative defense of constructive eviction where the doctrine of aider by verdict precluded review of that issue on appeal.