Stone Walling and Silent Yoga
"Order, all rise, case number 141; Juggernaut verses Walling and Stiph. Judge, all the parties sworn in; folks please be seated and maintain silence during the proceedings," said the bailiff handing over the docket to the Judge Takahashi.
Judge Takahashi was in late 60,s, a diminutive woman with dark rimmed glasses, an American of oriental origin, come across as no-nonsense judge gets easily irritated if she gets a run around for her questions.
"MR. Juggernaut I read your submission carefully. You are suing the defendants Mr. Walling and Ms. Stiph for the return of your deposit of $1000 on 1BR cottage you rented from the defendants, please present your case," Judge Takahashi looked at Mr. Juggernaut.
"Your honor, sometime in April of 2012, I came across an advertisement on Craig's list for rent a 1BR cottage in the Puna district on the Big Island, Hawaii. Since I was looking to rent a place on southeast side of the Big Island, I responded to the advertisement," Mr. Juggernaut spoke in soft voice and looked nervous.
"I am curious Why on the southeast side of the Big Island?" Judge Takahashi looked at Mr. Juggernaut.
"Well, with my wife and daughter, we visited the Big Island on vacation two years ago and stayed at in Hilo, the largest town on the Big Island on east side. We loved the lush green rainforest on southeast side of the island and I decided to come back to live around six months to enjoy quiet rainforest environment. The location of the cottage was in the middle of the rainforest and close to the ocean, it was the ideal place for me to rent."
"After exchanging few emails and submitting references, I had a video conference with Mr. Walling and Ms. Stiph on Skype. The conference ended with both parties satisfied. Ms. Stiph asked me to mail a check in order of Mr. Walling since he owns the property. The check was for $2,150.00, $1000 dollars for the first month rent, $1000 towards the deposit money and $150 cleaning expenses if the cottage after the lease was left in a condition that requires cleanup to the extent it cost $150. My references tell me that Ms. Stiph was very thorough in her questioning on my character and background, the vetting process was scrupulous as if she was employing me for a high level job."
"Have you completed the six months lease?"
"No, you honor. On the very first evening at the cottage, as the sun was setting slowly I heard bird noises. Generally, birds tend to start sing at dawn but surprisingly here the birds started singing as dusk was setting in and continued throughout the night. The next day, I asked the locals about the bird noise during the night since it is unusual that birds sing or make noise during the night time. To my surprise, I was told that the nightly loud noise was from tree frogs that infested the east side of the island several years ago and became a serious noise nuisance. These frogs, I was told are tiny and managed to land on eastside of the Big Island from Puerto Rico, since the frogs make Coqui-Coqui sounds, the frogs were referred to as Coqis on the island and the nuisance is called Coqui noise. The tiny frogs live on the trees thus called tree frogs and make loud relentless noise in harmony with each other from dawn to dusk. Unless a house is fully insulated with doors and windows closed shut with air-conditioning, it is difficult to keep the interior quiet. The cottage is very open with several windows; it is like living indoors with outdoor experience which was nice except for the noise that I could not bear. I thought I should have been informed of the noise nuisance by the defendants before they offered the cottage for rent or at least mentioned in their advertisement. And this was not done. As evening approaches every day, I have this sinking feeling of not getting sleep from the Coquis. As matter of fact I wrote a short story entitled "Singing Tree Frogs on Lava Rock," about the frogs and my anguish. I rented the cottage for six months to live quietly and write some short stories but the environment around the cottage was nothing but constant noise."
Judge Takahashi turned towards the defendants for response.
"Your honor though I own the property, M. Stiph manages both the cottages on the farm, therefore I will allow Ms. Stiph to respond," Mr. Walling excused himself from the stand.
"I am disappointed to learn that Mr. Juggernaut was affected by the noise of Coquis but I suggested him to use ear-plugs in the night to reduce the noise level," said Ms. Stiph.
"Have you tried using ear-plugs" Judge Takahashi turned towards Mr. Juggernaut for an answer.
"Yes your honor but it made no difference. To neutralize the Coqui noise I needed a noise cancelling device generally used on the airplanes, with such a contraption, it is hard to sleep, night after night." Juggernaut closed his both ears to demonstrate his annoyance with constant Coqui noise."
Juggernaut continued "to make things worse during the day time, the neighbor behind the cottage drove his tractor driven lawn mower several hours a day with loud noise and operated a diesel power generator as a back up to solar, generating equally loud noise. Construction noise from a house being built in front of the cottage added more noise during the day time. In addition to these noises, the nearby geo-thermal plant operation generates steady humming noise throughout the day and sometimes night. The cottage though located in rainforest, the noise levels during the day and night was worse than urban living."
"Before you signed the lease with Mr. Juggernaut, have you submitted a disclosure statement as required by the real-estate law that indicates noise nuisance from the tree frogs"? asked the Judge turning towards the defendants.
Stiph replied ,"I am not aware of the law."
"It seems you collected the first month June rent in April, are you aware you cannot collect the first month rent in advance of the occupancy date of June 1st, 2012, also a violation of the law?" Judge Takahashi gave a sharp look at the defendant.
Ms. Stiph shrugged her shoulders and threw her hands in air as if she could care less.
"Any other unhappy experiences you want to share Mr. Juggernaut?"
"Yes, your honor, I was told that I will have internet connection 24/7 but I need to get my own Wi-Fi router to tap into the internet modem located at the main cottage. I was not informed that the tenant at the main cottage has the control on the internet modem switch. My internet connection depended on his whim when he switched on and off the internet modem. This was a very difficult for me since I need the internet to make telephone calls. For the three months I lived at the cottage, I waited every day for the renter in the main cottage to wake up so that I can get internet whether it was 8 Am or later."
Juggernaut continued, "During the month of October, for three days in a row I did not have power at all since the solar system did not work. The solar technician that visited the cottage could not fix the system told me that the batteries that store the solar power were too old and needs replacement if I were to get steady supply of power during the night time when it needed most. So, during the month of October, I have to wait until 9 Am or later until the sunlight was bright enough to generate solar power and since the old batteries could not store the power generated during the day. The landlord gave strict instructions not to use rice cooker, coffee percolator or hair dryers etc., to save power but never took their responsibility seriously to maintain the solar system to provide enough power for minimal usage during the night time when power was most needed."
He continued emotionally "the driveway from the Pohiki Road to the cottage was uneven and often muddy road from constant rains that requires a vehicle with high under clearance like an SUV or a truck. This was not mentioned in their advertisement. I purchased a VW sedan and every time I drove from and to the cottage, the ground clearance was so low on a sedan, the bumpy ground scratched and damaged the oil pan underneath. The poor and rough conditions of the driveway to the cottage were never mentioned in the advertisement either."
"Fair enough, Ms. Stiph will you please respond to Mr. Juggernaut?"
"All I would say we were sorry for any inconvenience to Mr. Juggernaut during his stay, we are just doing business," Ms. Stiph looked indifferent and businesslike.
"As per the fair disclosure laws, have you disclosed on possible intermittent supply of internet and power supply to the tenant?" the judge looked at Ms. Stifle from top of her eye-glasses."
"I am not sure your honor."
"What you mean, have you disclosed it or not?" the judge looked irritated.
"I don't have the copy of my advertisement in front of me to verify," replied Ms. Stiph shrugging her shoulders.
"I have the copy of the advertisement, judge," said Juggernaut handing over the copy to the bailiff.
Judge Takahashi quickly glanced at the document. "Nowhere in your advertisement had you disclosed as required by the law about the Coqui noise or other limitations. Do you understand that your advertisement on Craig's list was deceptive for not mentioning the limitations," Judge Takahashi asked the bailiff to show the document to Ms. Stiph.
Ms. Stiph took a quick glance at the document and returned it to the bailiff without making any comment.
"I consider your advertisement on Craig's list was deceptive. Mr. Juggernaut should have been informed of the Coqui noise and you cannot collect the first month rent in advance, on both counts your actions were significant violations of rental laws," Judge Takahashi was stern in her voice.
"Judge, I am a business woman and the letter 'B' for business flows in my blood so as my blood type B to confirm it. Had I born in India, I am sure I would have born into business caste. Mr. Juggernaut violated his lease agreement and left one month early and to recuperate the loss of rent, I kept the deposit money of $1000," Ms. Stiph looked determined.
"Thank god we don't have caste system here, we don't need any more divisions in our society. Mr. Juggarnaut have you informed Ms. Stiph that you were leaving one month early before completing your lease agreement?" The judge looked at Juggernaut.
"Yes your honor. I sent an email to Ms. Stiph asking her permission to relieve me of the lease so that I can leave at the end of October rather than end of November before completing my lease period for the reasons explained particularly the Coqui noise and you have the copy of email to Ms. Stiph and her response. Nowhere in her response she mentioned about keeping the deposit otherwise I could have continued to stay to the end of lease period after all I put with the noise for three months and interruption with power and internet," Juggernaut looked at Ms. Stiph.
"True, nowhere in your response you mentioned about keeping the deposit money?" the judge looked at Ms. Stiph for response.
"Well I tried to get someone to rent the cottage but I could not get anybody in such a short notice and I have to recoup my business losses Judge so I kept the deposit money," Ms. Stiph was adamant.
"You cannot keep the deposit money as last month rent for three reasons, number one you failed to disclose in your rental advertisement about Coqui noise which is against the law, secondly you should not have collected the 1st month rent in advance with the deposit which is also a violation of real-estate law, thirdly when Mr. Juggernaut requested you to release from his lease agreement, in reply nowhere you mentioned about keeping his deposit if you were fail to rent the cottage for the last month, you gave an impression to Mr. Juggernaut that you released him of the lease to leave one month before completing the lease without penalty otherwise he could have stayed in spite of the horrible Coqui noise and interruptions in power and internet supply," the Judge was detailed in her observations.
"I am in the business of making money, if Mr. Juggernaut suffered great inconvenience, I am sorry but it was his prerogative to rent our cottage and I am not responsible for his loss," Ms. Stiph looked away and rolled her eyes.
"What you do for living Mr. Walling?" asked the Judge.
"For generations my family was in the business of building retaining walls thus we acquired our family name 'Walling,"
"How about you Ms. Stiph?"
"I am in the business of selling Eastern philosophy."
"Well, Mr. Juggernaut as a story teller if you were to write a story from this experience what would be the title?" asked Judge Tekahashi.
"Your honor, considering the poor response I received from the defendants to resolve the issue, a title like "Stone Walling and Silent yoga," would be appropriate," said Juggernaut. The Judge and the bailiff along with the court audiences gave a resounding applause.
"Judge, since I won the case, can I request the court that the defendants instead of paying back my deposit and court expenses to me, donate that amount to my favorite radio NPR, a radio station that delivers truth always," requested Juggernaut.
"Sure, I will include your request in my judgment. Ms. Stiph, you cannot stiff people, no pun intended; I order you to return the deposit money to Mr. Juggernaut and also I am making you pay a penalty of $4000 for his pain and suffering although he did not request in his petition," Judge Tekahashi brought down the gavel gently to touch the sidebar concluding the case. The court audience mostly law students gave a standing ovation as the celebration of justice restored in favor of Juggernaut.