Law School Case Brief
Churchill Forge, Inc. v. Brown - 61 S.W.3d 368 (Tex. 2001)
Because under Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 92.052, subch. B, landlords have no duty to repair or pay to repair tenant-caused damage, and tenants have no remedy for such damage, Tex. Prop. Code. Ann. § 92.061 makes clear that the legislature did not intend the Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 92.052, subch. B, to otherwise affect the parties' presumptive right to contract over who would be responsible for conditions caused by the tenant, the tenant's occupant, or guest.
JoAnn Brown co-signed a lease with her adult son, Carl Jeffrey ("Jeff"), for an apartment owned by Churchill Forge, Inc. Jeff allegedly caused a fire that extensively damaged the apartment complex. Churchill Forge sued JoAnn, asserting that the lease required her, as a cotenant, to pay for any damages resulting from Jeff's negligence. JoAnn defended, claiming that either the Texas Property Code or this Court's fair notice doctrine prohibit Churchill Forge, as a commercial landlord, from contractually requiring her to pay for the alleged damage. The trial court granted summary judgment for JoAnn, and the court of appeals affirmed.
Is a commercial landlord prohibited from contractually obligating its tenant to be responsible for damages caused by the tenant, the tenant's occupant, or guest?
JoAnn argued that the Churchill Forge could not enforce the lease provision against her because it could not meet the conditions of § 92.006(e). The supreme court disagreed because nothing in § 92.006(e) prohibited a landlord from contracting with its tenant for the tenant to be responsible for damages the tenant, the tenant's occupant, or guest causes. That statute only said that a landlord, meeting that section's requirements, could contract for the tenant to pay for certain repairs regardless of whether they were necessitated by the tenant. The supreme court held that the property code not only permitted the parties to contract over who would pay for repairs when the tenant caused damage, it specifically authorized the parties to shift by contract costs of repairs for certain damages from the landlord to the tenant irrespective of whether the damage was caused by the tenant.
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