Is a tenant is entitled to attorney fees when landlord’s anti-SLAPP motion is denied?

Is a tenant is entitled to attorney fees when landlord's anti-SLAPP motion is denied?
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Is a tenant is entitled to attorney fees when landlord’s anti-SLAPP motion is denied?

In Ben‑Shahar v. Pickart, 2014 DJDAR 15712, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District decided a complex landlord/tenant case involving the interplay of unlawful detainer proceedings and California’s Special Motion to Strike under Code of Civil Procedure Section 426.16.

The defendant (“Pickart”) purchased a rent‑controlled apartment building. He then served the tenant with a 60‑day notice to vacate the premises. Pickart initiated unlawful detainer proceedings after the tenant refused to vacate the premises. The trial court granted the unlawful detainer petition and ordered the tenant to vacate. The parties then entered into an agreement to settle the unlawful detainment action.

The tenant agreed to vacate the unit and the landlord agreed to move in the unit within the time period specified under the local rent control ordinance. After the landlord failed to move in by the deadline, the tenant sued the landlord for breach of the settlement agreement.

The landlord filed an anti‑SLAPP motion, asserting that his conduct was protected as it was related to the unlawful detainer action. The trial court denied the landlord’s anti‑SLAPP motion and the tenant’s motion for attorney fees.

The court of appeal reversed, stating that the anti‑SLAPP statute allows the trial court to strike any cause of action that arises from the defendant’s exercise of the “right of petition” or “free speech.” However, the court of appeal noted that the record was clear that the tenant’s lawsuit was directed at the landlord’s purported breach of the settlement agreement and did not arise from the unlawful detainer action. 

The court of appeal remanded the matter to the trial court to make the required determination whether the tenant was entitled to fees and, if so, the amount of the recovery.

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