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Miller v. Burnett

Court of Appeals of Kansas

June 9, 2017

Linda K. Miller, Appellant,
v.
William Burnett, Appellee.

         SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

         1. As a general rule, an appellate court cannot determine whether substantial evidence supports a trial court's factual findings unless a transcript of the evidence presented to the trial court is included in the appellate record.

         2. Although Kansas recognizes a landlord's duty to mitigate damages, that duty does not arise unless the tenant has abandoned the property. A landlord's duty to mitigate damages does not authorize interference with the tenant's rights to exclusive possession and quiet enjoyment of the leased premises.

         Appeal from Wabaunsee District Court; Gary L. Nafziger, judge. Reversed and remanded with directions.

          Linda K. Miller, appellant pro se.

          William Burnett, appellee pro se.

          Tucker A. Stewart, associate counsel, for amicus curiae Kansas Livestock Association.

          Before Standridge, P.J., Leben, J., and Patricia Macke Dick, District Judge, assigned.

          LEBEN, J.

         In early 2016, Linda K. Miller sued her landlord, William Burnett, claiming she was entitled to damages because he had allowed his neighbor's horses to graze on the 35 acres of pastureland that she rented from him and also had denied her access to the land for several months. Burnett filed a counterclaim against Miller, claiming she hadn't paid rent. Miller lost at both small-claims court and at a bench trial in district court; the court ordered her to pay Burnett the rent she owed. On appeal, she essentially argues that, based on the evidence, the district court reached the wrong result.

         Unfortunately, at least from her vantage point, she did not include a trial transcript in the record on appeal. Without this, we cannot know what evidence the district court relied on to make its decision, so we cannot evaluate the factual validity of that decision.

         But we can evaluate the district court's legal conclusion that because Miller hadn't paid rent, Burnett was required to mitigate his damages by allowing his neighbor's horses to graze on the rented property. That's not correct. First, while landlords do have a duty to mitigate damages under Kansas law (a minority position nationally), that duty arises only when a tenant abandons the property-it simply doesn't apply in this situation, where all we know for sure is that the tenant failed to pay rent but might have still occupied the premises. Second, the district court's conclusion is at odds with another principle of landlord-tenant law, the implied covenant of quiet enjoyment, which exists in every Kansas lease and prevents a landlord from interfering with the tenant's exclusive use and possession of the rented property. The law simply does not authorize a landlord to breach this covenant of quiet enjoyment and interfere with the tenant's sole possession based on a nonpayment of rent when the tenant is still in possession-a landlord has other legal remedies available when a tenant fails to pay rent.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         Beginning around 2010, Miller rented 35 acres of pastureland in Wabaunsee County from Burnett; she and her husband used the land to grow and harvest brome grass. The parties seem to agree that they had an oral lease agreement, that the rent was $1, 000 a year, and that the lease terminated on March 1, 2016. (By statute, oral farm leases in Kansas run ...


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