When a tenant violates the terms of their lease, it’s hardly surprising that their landlord will start eviction proceedings. But what happens if the property is sold in the midst of those proceedings?

One tenant argued that the sale restarted the clock on the eviction, and an Orange County court agreed. But when the case reached the Court of Appeal, the higher court took the opposite view (Lee v. Kotyluk).

Sean Kotyluk had rented a retail store from Rosemarie Haynes, signing a lease stating that he could only sell crystals, candles, incense, oils and similar items.

At some point he discovered that his customers were more interested in cannabis than crystals and started selling it, despite lacking the required license to sell marijuana, according to court documents.

On June 4, 2019, an attorney for Haynes sent Kotyluk an unlawful detainer notice, the first step in an eviction process. It told him he had three days to either stop the unlicensed marijuana sales or move out of the property.

Haynes didn’t immediately proceed with the eviction when the deadline had passed, possibly because she was in the process of selling the property to Johnny Ki Lee and Un Joong Lee.

The Lees took ownership on June 20, 2019, and eight days later they filed an unlawful detainer motion in the Orange County Superior Court, seeking to evict Kotyluk.

His lawyers objected, arguing that the Lees didn’t own the property when the three-day notice was sent to Kotyluk, nor when the three days were up, so they could not use it as a basis for the eviction.

They also said that the eviction notice was defective because it didn’t make clear whether Kotyluk should turn over the property to the landlord who had rented the store to him, or to the new owners.

The trial court agreed, ruling the three-day notice to vacate could not be enforced because “at the time that the notice was issued, there was no landlord-tenant relationship” between Kotyluk and the Lees.

The judge also said that the eviction notice was not valid because it didn’t identify the person to whom the tenant could return the property. Kotyluk was awarded more than $27,000. Despite his courtroom win, he vacated the store.

The Lees appealed.

In what might be a reference to the merchandise that triggered the eviction process, the appellate justices noted that the case required them “to get into the weeds of the unlawful detainer statute.”

Kotyluk’s attorney argued that the appeal was moot – that it should not even be heard, because possession of the property had already been restored to its owners.

The appellate justices disagreed, noting that there was still the issue of the money the Lees had been ordered to pay to their former tenant. That award would be voided if the lower court’s ruling was overturned.

Turning to the substance of the trial court’s decision, the justices said it was correct to disallow the eviction because it was based on an unlawful detainer notice sent by the former owner of the property.

But the lower court erred by not allowing the new owners to simply amend their notice and proceed with the eviction, the justices said.

The law is clear that a tenant has the same obligations to a new owner as it had to a prior owner, they said, and the new owner has the same rights to enforce a lease as the prior owner had. There is no reason a sale of the property would sidetrack an eviction process.

They also rejected the tenant’s claim that the unlawful detainer notice was flawed because it did not specify precisely to whom the property should be returned.

The law doesn’t require a notice to include that information, they noted. In addition, the notice sent to Kotyluk included the name of the attorney who prepared it, and he could have simply contacted the attorney if he was uncertain about how to proceed.

The appellate court reversed the decision of the trial judge, thereby voiding the $27,000 award to the tenant, and ordered the tenant to pay the Lees’ costs on appeal.

By Laurie Murphy