The case of the objectionable wallpaper
Tenants rented a single family dwelling from the Landlord on December 30, 1999. There was some discussion about the Tenant’s purchasing the home. They began to fix up the home as if they intended to follow through on the purchase. The tenants testified that the landlord said “to do whatever they wished to make them happy.”
The tenants painted some of the interior walls and then removed and replaced some of the interior wallpaper in both the living room and in both bathrooms. They also put up a border in the living room, kitchen, and one of the bedrooms.
The landlord wrote the tenants a letter on or about March 24, 2000 informing them that they had breached the lease and were being given 60 days to vacate the premises. The landlord claimed that the installation of the wallpaper was a breach of paragraph #8 of the lease which states in pertinent part: “Lessee shall make no alterations to the buildings on the demised premises or construct any building or make other improvements on the demised premises without the prior written consent of Lessor.”
The court noted that Section 83.56 allows a landlord to terminate a lease if the tenant “materially fails to comply” with section 83.52 or if the tenant fails to comply with “material provisions of the rental agreement.” The question is whether the wallpapering of the residence is a violation of a “material provision” of the lease. A breach of a contract is only material if it goes to the very heart of the contract and defeats the object of the parties in entering into the contract. As there were no cases directly on point in Florida, the court cited an Oregon case, McKeon v. Williams, 799 P.2d 198 (Or. App. 1990), where the court ruled that in order for a violation to be a material breach of the lease, a court must consider the following: (1) the extent to which the injured party will obtain the substantial benefit which he reasonably could have anticipated; (2) the extent to which the injured party may be adequately compensated in damages for lack of performance; and (3) the willful, negligent, or innocent behavior of the party failing to perform.” Id. at 200.
The court noted that the landlord has a security deposit against the possible damages to the walls, and found that pursuant to the representations made to the tenants about making themselves happy and doing what they wished to the residence, the breach was innocent. Therefore the breach of the lease was not a material breach and that the landlord not entitled to possession.
GASKIN, vs. JOHNSON. Civil Division. Case No. 2000-CC-1698. June 28, 2000. Matthew E. McMillan, Judge. 7 Fla Law Weekly Supp. 620a (Manatee county 2000)