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Hand-Delivering Written Notices of Breach Permissible Under Lease Agreement

In Panagiotidis v. Galanis, 2015 VT 134 (December 18, 2015), the Vermont Supreme Court upheld a judgment for ejectment and damages, holding that the personal service of a written notice is permitted where the lease authorizes, but does not require, the mailing of written notices.

Issue: Defendant/Tenant appealed a judgment against him, arguing that he had not received the required notice that he was in breach.

Background: The parties entered a written lease agreement for a pizza business. Dissatisfied with the business, Defendant unilaterally began paying his rent into an escrow account at his attorneys’ office. Plaintiffs brought an ejectment action. The trial court found that there was a valid and enforceable lease agreement and that Defendant breached the agreement by escrowing the payments. While Defendant had a statutory and contract right to cure the breach, the trial court found he failed to do so, since he had not paid the past-due rent payments within ten days of receiving written notice of default, as required under the lease contract, and had not paid interest and court costs, as required under 12 V.S.A. 4773. Defendant appealed, arguing that he had not received written notice of breach because it was hand-delivered, instead of mailed. The lease included a provision that authorized sending written notices by mail, but did not discuss hand-delivering notices.

Holding: The Court held that the lease provision that authorized mailing written notices, did not mean that notices had to be mailed. It held that personal service of the notice, which is more effective than mailing, satisfied the notice requirement. The Court also affirmed the decision that Defendant was in breach, as nothing in the lease authorized him to unilaterally pay rent into his attorney’s escrow account.

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