Our pro bono partners at Horvitz & Levy LLP scored an appellate victory on behalf of extremely low-income, senior citizen residents of a mobile home park.
For over a quarter century, the mobile home park was governed by a city resolution that put strict yearly limits on the permissible rent increases. According to the tenants, the park’s management separately assured them that rents would not increase substantially, and that the park would remain affordable for extremely low-income seniors. After decades of minimal or no rent increases consistent with those representations, the park owner sought and obtained permission from the city to increase rents by 144 percent, phased in over seven years.
When the park owner began to substantially increase rents, the senior citizen residents sued the park owner for breaching its prior representations. The park owner sought to avoid liability by filing an anti-SLAPP motion, contending that the seniors’ claims were based on the owner’s constitutionally protected petitioning activity within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court denied the motion, and when the park owner appealed from that ruling, Horvitz & Levy stepped in to defend the seniors on appeal.
In a unanimous decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed the denial of the park owner’s anti-SLAPP motion. The court held that the seniors’ action did not arise from the protected act of petitioning the city for permission to increase rents, but rather from the park owner’s unprotected act of raising rents in breach of its prior representations that it would not do so. The court also rejected the park owner’s argument that the rent increase itself was protected commercial speech.