Landlord Sues Former Tenants for Creating Environmental Nuisance

Slow River, LLC sought compensatory and punitive damages against a group of former tenant-businesses, including Jiffy Food Store, E-Z Serve Petroleum, Golden Gate Petroleum, and Diablo Petroleum, alleging that during the time of their leasehold that the defendants released illegal pollutants into the groundwater creating a public and private nuisance.

Under California state law, a public and private nuisance is any action on leased property that is “injurious to health,” results in an “obstruction to the free use of property,” or unlawfully interferes with the use of any water source. If the nuisance is proven, the owner/landlord of the property can acquire a court order to abate the nuisance and receive financial damages for loss in property value, loss in rental income, costs for clean-up of the nuisance, and, in rare instances, punitive damages.

The plaintiff asserted that the actions of the defendants easily met the legal standards for a nuisance. According to the complaint, the defendants allowed leaks from their businesses to release gas, oil, and other carcinogenic materials into the groundwater. This resulted in the plaintiff failing to find new renters for the now-vacant polluted site, not qualifying for lines of credit and other loans, and no longer meeting the requirements to receive state environmental permits to start a new business on the property. The plaintiff further averred that beyond financial ramifications, anyone who worked on the site without the removal of the nuisance likely held grounds to sue the plaintiff for willingly exposing persons to hazardous substances.

Slow River concluded by arguing that the nuisance will only get worse without judicial interference. According to the plaintiff, with the best available knowledge, the defendants’ failure to remedy the leaks despite frequent notices over several years stood to result in the spread of the carcinogenic chemicals into the groundwater in the residential areas surrounding the plaintiff’s land. As such, the plaintiff prayed that the court mandate that the defendants pay for the cost of clean-up, pay for all future environmental testing and investigation related to the pollution, pay punitive damages to deter future conduct, and provide restitution to the plaintiff for depreciation of property value and lost rental income.

Slow River, LLC is represented by Bois & MacDonald.