Small-claims damages award upheld in cabin eviction appeal

A woman who was evicted from a rustic Brown County cabin for unpaid rent lost her appeal Friday that argued in part the $1,500 damages award to her former landlord was excessive.

Keyed In Property Management LLC sued Heather Harvey, who had leased a cabin for $900 a month from August 2018 through July 2019. But problems soon arose with mice and insect infestations, a faulty heater, electrical problems and a steep, eroded driveway. Keyed In worked with Harvey to resolve some of the issues, and she paid for some work and deducted it from her rent.

But when Harvey asked Keyed In for a credit for labor she claimed she performed on the driveway, Keyed In noted she had been informed she would no longer be reimbursed for expenses incurred without prior written authorization.

Harvey last paid rent in February 2019, and on April 25 of that year, Keyed In filed a small claims suit in Brown Circuit Court seeking eviction and damages. Because it was an LLC not represented by counsel in the matter, its potential damages award was capped at $1,500 under Indiana Small Claims Rule 8(C). After a hearing, the trial court ordered Harvey to pay damages of $1,500 and court costs of $125, then ordered her eviction at a later separate hearing. The trial court subsequently denied Harvey’s motion to correct error.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed Friday in Heather Harvey v. Keyed In Property Management, LLC, 20A-SC-01459, referring in a footnote to some of her arguments as “puzzling.”

“Although Keyed alleged damages in excess of $1500, it did not seek or obtain a damage award over $1500,” Judge Robert Altice wrote for the panel. “… Rather, Keyed consistently requested a judgment limited to $1500 (with $125 court costs) in its Notice and at the evidentiary hearing. The trial court properly applied S.C.R. 8(C) and entered judgment in favor of Keyed in the amount of $1500 plus $125 in court costs.” For the same reasons, the panel concluded, the court did not err in denying Harvey’s motion to correct error.

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