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Farrell G. Belknap, Jr v. Roger D. Shears

December 3, 2012


Civil Appeal from the Portage County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. 2010 CV 0173.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas R. Wright, J.

Cite as Belknap v. Shears,


Judgment: Affirmed.

{¶1} This appeal has been taken from a final judgment of the Portage County Court of Common Pleas. In that judgment, the trial court overruled certain objections to a prior magistrate's decision and entered its final rulings on the merits of the remaining claims of appellant, Farrell G. Belknap, Jr. Before this court, appellant primarily submits that the magistrate's and trial court's disposition of his remaining claims was against the manifest weight of the evidence.

{¶2} In 1999, appellant purchased from his father certain real property located at 11328 Kyle Road, Garrettsville, Ohio. Since appellant already owned a residence on Kyle Road, he did not move into the home on his father's former property. Instead, over the next two years, he remodeled a substantial portion of the home's interior, painted its exterior, and installed new landscaping in the yard.

{¶3} Beginning in 2001, appellant rented the remodeled residence to appellees, Roger D. Shears and Tammy Dowling. Over the next three years, appellees paid the monthly sum of $700 to appellant for use of the home and four sheds which were also on the property. Shears primarily employed the sheds to store equipment and paint that he used in his seasonal construction business.

{¶4} In August 2004, appellees informed appellant that they were interested in purchasing the leased premises. Accordingly, the parties executed a land installment contract, under which appellees agreed to pay a total of $115,000 for the real property. Under the terms of the contract, appellees made an initial down payment of $10,000 to appellant, and then were required to make a monthly payment of $818.40 over the next five years. Furthermore, at the end of the five-year period, appellees would be liable for a "balloon" payment of approximately $100,000. In addition, the contract provided that appellees could not make changes to the property without obtaining written permission.

{¶5} Over the five-year period, appellees did not miss any of the sixty monthly installment payments. However, in August 2009, they told appellant that they would not be able to make the final balloon payment, which was due on September 1, 2009. Over the ensuing few weeks, Shears and appellant tried to negotiate a new lease agreement for the premises, since appellees hoped to remain in the home until their son graduated from high school. At the conclusion of this process, during which two separate lease agreements were executed, appellees agreed to make a monthly rent payment of $850. But, even though they continued to reside in the home until May 2010, appellees only made one rent payment.

{¶6} After appellees had not paid any rent for three months, appellant brought the underlying civil action against them and two other defendants. Under his first claim, appellant sought foreclosure under the terms of the land installment contract. Under his second claim, he alleged that appellees had failed to pay the fair rental value for the real property during the five-year period in which they made the installment payments; thus, he sought the difference between the fair rental value and those monthly installments. Under his final claim, appellant requested compensatory damages for alleged changes appellees had made to the home without his written consent. As part of the latter claim, he also alleged that appellees had damaged the home beyond normal wear and tear.

{¶7} Once appellees had filed their answer to the complaint, appellant moved for partial summary judgment on his foreclosure claim. When appellees did not submit a response, the trial court granted appellant's motion on that specific claim, and a sheriff's sale was scheduled for October 2011. At that time, appellant essentially re- purchased the property for the sum of $33,334, and the sale was immediately confirmed by the trial court.

{¶8} The remaining aspects of the case were subsequently assigned to a court magistrate, who then conducted an evidentiary hearing on April 25, 2011. In addition to testifying on his own behalf, appellant presented the testimony of Robert Barrett, a local contractor whom appellant hired to make certain repairs to the residence. In response, Shears testified on behalf of appellees. As part of that testimony, Shears asserted that, while in possession of the home, he had made certain improvements which would offset any damage to the structure.

{¶9} At the close of the evidentiary hearing, the magistrate noted that neither side had presented any receipts to support their respective statements as to the amount of funds they had spent in making repairs or improvements to the disputed home. The magistrate then indicated that he would be willing to consider additional evidence from either side if the two attorneys were able to "resolve" the matter. Approximately three months after the hearing, appellant moved to supplement the trial record with copies of certain receipts. After appellees had submitted a notice of opposition to the motion, the magistrate overruled it, thereby basing his ensuing decision solely upon the evidence presented at trial.

{ΒΆ10} In his written decision, the magistrate first found that appellant had failed to demonstrate that the monthly fair rental value of the property had been greater than the monthly installments appellees had paid under the terms of the land contract. Thus, it was recommended that final judgment be entered in favor of appellees on the second claim in appellant's complaint. As to the third claim, the magistrate found that appellant had established that appellees had unnecessarily damaged many items throughout the home, including windows, doors, and walls. However, the magistrate further found that appellant had only shown that he had expended the sum of $15,000 in repairing ...

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