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Imperial Colliery Co. v. Fout

    Brief Fact Summary. A tenant claimed his landlord instituted a retaliatory eviction for his participation in a labor union.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. Retaliation may be asserted as a defense to a summary eviction proceeding if the landlord’s conduct is in retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of a right incidental to the tenancy.

    Facts. Danny H. Fout (Defendant) is employed by Milburn Colliery Company as a coal miner. He leased a house from Imperial Colliery Company (Plaintiff), which allegedly has ties to Milburn. The lease stated that it was terminable by either party on one month’s notice. Plaintiff notified Defendant that it was terminating the lease and sued for possession of the property. Defendant asserted that the suit was brought in retaliation for his involvement in a labor union and a selective strike against Milburn. The motive was alleged to violate the First Amendment rights and the National Labor Relations Act.

    Issue. May a residential tenant who is sued for possession for rental property assert retaliation by the landlord as a defense, and if can, must the retaliation motive be related to the tenant’s exercise of a right incidental to the tenancy?

    Held. Yes.
    A tenant is entitled to certain rights to a fit and habitable dwelling. When a tenant asserts a retaliatory eviction defense, he should not be punished for claiming the benefits afforded by statutes passed for his protection. A tenant should be able to complain about unfit conditions without fear of reprisal.
    Retaliation may be asserted as a defense to a summary eviction proceeding if the landlord’s conduct is in retaliation for the tenant’s exercise of a right incidental to the tenancy.
    Here, Defendant’s activity that he claims triggered his eviction was unrelated to the habitability of his premises. The retaliatory eviction defense must relate to activities of the tenant incidental to the tenancy. First Amendment rights unrelated to the tenant’s property interest are not protected under a retaliatory eviction defense because they do not arise from the tenancy relationship.

    Discussion. If a landlord has a right to evict a tenant who is trying to improve his living conditions, tenants will be too afraid to pursue their claims. However, a tenant cannot claim a retaliatory condition unless the actions of the tenant are related to the ten


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