The Law School Authority

Smith v. McEnany Case Brief

Summary of Smith v. McEnany, S. Ct. Mass. [1897]

Relevant Facts: A portion of a lot was being used by the Df to store wagon, and it was covered by a shed.  The PL’s husband constructed a brick wall for a building adjoining the leased premises.  The measurement of the encroachment varied from 9 inches, up to 2 feet, but all agreed it occurred.

Legal Issue(s): Whether the encroachment, upon the leased portion of the lot, by the PL’s building thereupon, dispossessed the tenant of the premises and thus denied the tenant enjoyment?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: Trial judge ruled that it was effectively an eviction. Df subject to covenant to repair premises, Pl objected;  judgment affirmed.

Law or Rule(s):  A wrongful eviction of the tenant by the landlord from a part of the premises suspends the rent under the lease.  The landlord shall not apportion [assign or divide] his own wrong.

Court Rationale: The main reason a wrongful eviction suspends the rent is that the enjoyment of the whole consideration is the foundation of the debt and the condition of the covenant, and that the obligation to pay cannot be apportioned.  Traditionally, rent issues out of the land, and that the whole rent is charged on every part of the land.  If the landlord withdraws part of it he cannot recover either on the lease or outside of it for the occupation of the residue.  When the tenant is admittedly evicted from any portion of the land the rent is suspended because, by the terms of the instrument as construed, the tenant has made it an absolute condition that he should have the whole of the demised premises, at least as against willful interference on the landlord’s part.  An eviction like the one here does not necessarily end the lease, or other obligations of the tenant under it, such as the covenant to repair.

Plaintiff’s Argument: The wall only minimally interfered with the use of the premises.  The degree of interference did not cause the tenant deforcement for an appreciable amount of time.

Defendant’s Argument: The building of a brick wall upon the portion of the lot being rented under the lease is a wrongful eviction and denies the Df enjoyment of the premises.

minimis – trivial

SKALLY v SHUTE – The degree of interference with the use and enjoyment of the premises is important only in the case of acts not physically excluding the tenant, but alleged to have an equally serious practical effect, just as the intent is important only in the case of acts not necessarily amounting to an entry and deforcement of the tenant.

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