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Hwang v. Lee

September 30, 1996


Appeal from Superior Court of King County. Docket No: 94-2-18991-3. Date filed: 10/20/95. Judge signing: Hon. Michael C. Hayden.

PER CURIAM. -- In this case we are asked to decide whether the trial court abused its discretion in awarding the tenants attorney fees and costs as the prevailing parties in an unlawful detainer action. Despite the fact that the jury rendered judgment in favor of the tenants, the landlord, Anna Hwang argues that neither side was entitled to fees because both prevailed on a major issue. We find Hwang's argument unpersuasive and affirm. The tenants' request for fees and costs on appeal is granted.


Hwang owns Duvall Highlands Mobile Home Park. Natalie Lee entered into a written lease agreement with Hwang and moved into the park in 1989. Lee's friend, Larry Eichler, and son, Bill Lee, later moved in with Lee but were never made parties to the lease. Beginning in 1993, Hwang and Lee got into a dispute as to how much rent was owed. Hwang claimed that Lee owed $405 per month based on her additional occupants, the number of vehicles in her driveway and the number of pets she owned. Lee claimed that the lease agreement did not provide for these additional charges and that her rent was $360 per month.

Lee continued to pay $360 a month until July of 1994, when Hwang refused to accept the payment. That same month, Hwang commenced an unlawful detainer action against Lee, her son, and Larry Eichler seeking restitution of the premises and rents allegedly owed. In April 1995, Hwang filed an amended complaint alleging that Lee owed $4,188 in back rent. The next month, Hwang noted a show cause hearing for issuance of a writ of restitution. Before the hearing, Lee deposited $3,960 in the court's registry representing eleven months of rent (July 1994 through May 1995) calculated at $360 per month. The court denied Hwang's request for a writ of restitution and set the matter for trial. The moneys deposited by Lee were handed over to Hwang without objection.

The court also denied Hwang's later motion for summary judgment but granted Hwang's motion to dismiss Lee's consumer protection counterclaim based on Hwang's argument that the claim was not necessary to determine the sole issue of possession. The counterclaim was dismissed without prejudice.

In July of 1995, shortly before trial, Hwang accepted Lee's rent payment. Because she had sold a car and lost a pet, Lee tendered $325 per month for August and September. Hwang refused the payments. To eliminate the non-payment during those two months as a trial issue, Lee paid Hwang $720 ($360 per month) representing the rents owed for August and September during the trial.

The jury returned a general verdict in favor of the tenants. The tenants sought and were awarded attorney fees under the lease agreement and under the Mobile Home Landlord-Tenant Act, RCW 59.20.


Hwang contends that the trial court's award of attorney fees was an abuse of discretion because the tenants did not substantially prevail below. She claims that she partially prevailed because: (1) she collected $3,960 or approximately 95% of the $4,188 sought in her amended complaint before trial; (2) Lee paid her an additional $720 at trial; and (3) she "prevailed" on Lee's consumer protection counterclaim. Hwang's argument is without merit.

RCW 59.20.110 and the lease agreement both provide for reasonable attorney fees and expenses to the prevailing party. *fn1 The prevailing party is the party who has an affirmative judgment rendered in her favor at the Conclusion of the entire case. *fn2 Here, the tenants substantially prevailed on every disputed issue presented at trial. The primary issue was whether Lee owed $405 per month as claimed by Hwang, or $360, as Lee claimed. Lee prevailed on that issue. The tenants also won on the issue of their right to possession of the premises.

In contrast, the claims on which Hwang contends she prevailed were not in dispute at trial. The moneys that Hwang received from Lee before and during trial represented rents that Lee did not dispute she owed, calculated at $360 per month. The counterclaim was also never litigated because it had been dismissed without prejudice before trial. The court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees to the tenants as the prevailing parties.

Natalie Lee requests attorney fees and costs on appeal under the lease agreement and RAP 18.1. When an agreement provides for the payment of attorney fees to one party, a prevailing party is entitled to reasonable fees and costs, including fees incurred on appeal. *fn3 Lee prevailed here and is therefore entitled to reasonable fees and costs on appeal. Larry Eichler and Bill Lee, who were not parties to the lease, request attorney fees and costs under RCW 59.20.110 and RAP 18.1. They are entitled to reasonable fees on appeal under RCW 59.20.110. *fn4 As such, the tenants' request for reasonable ...

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