South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Tenants Can Recover Cost of Major Improvements
Description SW Legal Virginia high court held that tenants who believed they were buying a house could recover the cost of major improvements they made to the property. Since there was no written agreement, there was no enforceable contract for sale, only a tenancy. The tenants were responsible for all monthly rent payments.
Topic Real and Personal Property
Key Words Landlord; Tenant; Oral Contract; Eviction; Improvements
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts The Brysons rented a house from Francis for two years before they entered into a new agreement. Francis claimed it was a month-by-month tenancy for $350 a month, which the Brysons broke when they stopped paying rent after five years. The Brysons claimed they had agreed to buy the house and that the payments were toward the purchase of the house. There was no written contract. By the time of the litigation, the Brysons owed $4,300 in back rent, which the court awarded Francis. The court awarded the Brysons $7,000 for the value of improvements, such as installing new doors and a new kitchen floor. Francis appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. There can be no specific performance of an alleged oral contract for the purchase of real estate, so the Brysons cannot prevail on that claim. The judgment ordering Francis to pay the Brysons $7,000 for improvements is affirmed. It appears from the evidence that the Brysons believed they were purchasing the property and so invested in significant improvements. Francis may have understood that to be the case also, so he will cover that cost.

Citation Francis v. Bryson, ---S.E.2d--- (2005 WL 1384321, Sup. Ct. App., W.Va., 2005)

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