By: Steven M. Williams
Our magisterial district judge said that he will not issue a possession judgment unless the tenant breaches a condition of the lease. What does this mean?
Under the common law (which is the law established by judges’ interpretations of statutes), there is a distinction between conditions of a lease and covenants in a lease. In general, conditions are those terms based upon which a landlord is willing to lease property to a tenant. Covenants are merely promises in a lease that the tenant agrees to do or not do. The best example of a condition is payment of rent. That is, a landlord agrees to lease property on the condition that the tenant pays rent. Almost all of the other terms of a lease could be considered covenants. For example, a landlord does not rent property to a tenant on the condition that the tenant not bother other residents. Rather, this is simply a promise that the tenant makes. Under the common law, a lease cannot be terminated, and an eviction ordered, unless the tenant breaches a condition (i.e., fails to pay rent), as opposed to a covenant (i.e., disturbs others). The theory behind this is that in order to displace a tenant from his home, there must be a serious breach. Covenants are not generally considered to be serious. An easy fix to this problem is to include a provision in your lease that says something like this: “All obligations of the tenant under this lease constitute conditions and not covenants, and the violation of any term of this lease shall be grounds for eviction.” In my experience, with this provision, judges do not generally have the condition versus covenant issue.
A disabled resident has asked us to drive her to CVS each month so she can get her medication. She says that her disability prevents her from driving, and she claims that her request is a reasonable accommodation that we must grant. Please tell me we do not have to do this. We do not provide any transportation to any other residents for any reason.
Relevant to your request, a reasonable accommodation is one that does not cause you an administrative burden. If you do not currently provide transportation services for your residents, then you are not obligated to do so in this case. You are a housing provider, and to be forced to provide transportation services for this resident would cause you an administrative burden. That is, it would require that you do something that you do not otherwise do. Thus, under a fair housing analysis, your resident’s request is not reasonable, and you do not have to grant it.