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CLAS Secures Another Trial Win for Client

On Monday, December 8, 2008, CLAS won its second bench trial in four months.

The client family, a mother with an 18-month-old daughter and a husband in Iraq with the U.S. Army, leased Virginia premises while the family was in South Korea. Upon arrival here in July 2008, the family discovered paint chips in the soil that created a concern about lead paint, and other problems that could not be repaired before the father's deployment later that month, so they gave notice to terminate and sought return of their security deposit (c. $5,000) in small claims court. The landlord refused and countered with a claim for lost rent and attorney's fees (c. $10,000) in Fairfax General District Court, Judge Lorraine Nordlund presiding.

After a two-hour trial including examination of witnesses and submission of documentary evidence, the judge ruled in favor of the CLAS client, strictly construing the lease which required the lead paint addendum be fully executed, which it was not, or the lease would be unenforceable. (By contrast, federal law treats such an omission as a breach, but would probably not invalidate the lease.)

The client told CLAS Executive Director Joseph Zengerle that the support from CLAS was "the best thing that's happened to all of us since [my husband] went off to Iraq . . . the legal victory was the icing on the cake."

This was the second favorable judgment achieved by CLAS student Robert May and his supervisor from the local bar, McLean real estate attorney Mark Jenkins, who called Professor Zengerle more than four years ago to volunteer his services to help CLAS and its servicemember clients. Last summer, the May-Jenkins team won a judgment after a bench trial in Arlington General District Court against a landlord who was held to have violated a Virginia statute permitting early termination of a lease upon a military tenant's receipt of orders to move.