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Sitterle Homes - Austin, LLC v. Amin-Patel Investments, LLC

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

July 3, 2019

Sitterle Homes - Austin, LLC, Appellant
v.
Amin-Patel Investments, LLC; Jaymini Patel; and Mitesh Patel, Appellees

          FROM COUNTY COURT AT LAW NO. 2 OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO. C-1-CV-16-010128, THE HONORABLE TODD T. WONG, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Justices Goodwin, Baker, and Triana

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS J. BAKER, JUSTICE

         Sitterle Homes - Austin, LLC, (Sitterle) appeals from a summary judgment granted in favor of appellees Amin-Patel Investments, LLC;[1] Jaymini Patel; and Mitesh Patel. We will reverse and remand.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In April 2016, Jaymini Patel and Mitesh Patel (collectively, the Patels) purchased a home (the Property) from Sitterle. Sitterle had been using the Property as a model home to market other homes it was building in the area. Sitterle and the Patels agreed that the Patels would lease the Property back to Sitterle for use as a model home for an initial lease period expiring on June 30, 2016. To that end, Sitterle prepared a lease and sent it to the Patels for execution. The Lease provided for a rental period beginning on the date of closing of the Patels' purchase of the Property from Sitterle and ending June 30, 2016. The Lease also provided that:

Upon expiration of the Rental Period, this Lease shall automatically extend for successive periods of thirty (30) days each (each, an "Option Period" and collectively, the "Option Periods"), on the same terms and conditions as set forth herein, unless Tenant provides Landlord with written notice indicating Tenant's intent to terminate this Lease not later than sixty (60) days prior to the expiration of the Rental Period or applicable Option Period.

         The Lease also provided that all required notices must be in writing and sent by (1) United States Postal Service, postage prepaid, certified, return receipt requested; (2) any nationally known overnight delivery services; (3) courier; or (4) facsimile transmission; or be delivered in person.

         After the closing in April 2016, Sitterle continued to use the Property as a model home based on the Lease. On June 24, 2016, Christophe Hardenne, the Sitterle sales representative who had worked with the Patels in their purchase of the Property, sent Mitesh Patel a text message that stated: "Mitesh, the boss decided to move out of the home by the end of the month. Best[.]" Mitesh Patel's text message reply stated: "Okay thanks for the info[.]" On June 29, Hardenne sent a text message to Mitesh Patel that stated: "Will you be ok to have the big move on July 6th? Thx." Mitesh Patel replied with a text stating: "I can't reference the lease. Is there a holdover amount each day after June 30." Hardenne sent a text back to Mitesh Patel that stated: "We will be out tomorrow."[2] Later that day, Mitesh Patel sent the following text message to Hardenne: "Do you know if electric will be turned off July 1st. I totally forgot to activate it under our name." Hardenne replied: "No . . . 5 days after [we] leave."[3]

         Sitterle vacated the Property June 30, 2016. After that date Sitterle did not access the Property, and its master key would no longer open the lock once the Patels had used their key to enter the Property.[4] Sitterle paid monthly rent for July, August, and September 2016. Sitterle's representative explained that because Sitterle did not give notice of its intent to vacate the Property until June 24, 2016, and because the Lease required that the notice be given sixty days before the expiration of the initial rental period or any Option Period, Sitterle was obligated to pay additional monthly rent for three thirty-day Option Periods.

         Sitterle's president Brian Shields stated in his affidavit that soon after Sitterle vacated the Property on June 30, Mitesh Patel began contacting the company to request that Sitterle address various warranty issues related to the Property. Shields stated that in July 2016, Mitesh Patel requested that a Sitterle representative meet him at the Property to discuss various items on a list of warranty issues. On July 14, Roger Jacoby with Sitterle met with Mitesh Patel at the Property to go over the issues and perform warranty work. Shields stated that at that time Sitterle did not have the ability to enter the Property, and the only way it could perform the requested warranty work was if one of the homeowners met the Sitterle representative at the Property to unlock the door.

         Beginning on July 21, Mitesh Patel and Sitterle exchanged a series of emails regarding additional warranty work. In response to Sitterle's email stating that it was having "tremendous difficulty getting hold of" him, Mitesh Patel replied: "Sorry please have Chad call me at [phone number] to coordinate any work that still needs to be completed. We have not moved in therefore we are not always available at that home." Sitterle and Mitesh Patel continued over the next month to discuss completing the warranty work requested by Patel and, on August 25, Mitesh Patel sent Sitterle the following email:

chris
access to the home is available anytime he wants in. as you are well aware we have yet to move in due to all the open issues still lingering with sitterle. Also, the house was rekeyed while your people had access to the home and keys were distributed to who knows. It was confirmed ...

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