Tuesday, June 1, 2021


             Yvonne Martin and Petter Kristensen married in 1995. In 1999 they lived together at a home owned by Yvonne.

            Yvonne transferred ownership of the home to Petter’s father, Frank Kristensen, by quitclaim deed in 2004. The couple continued to live there as tenants, although neither Yvonne nor Petter paid rent or otherwise compensated Frank and there was no lease agreement.

            Petter left the home in May 2008 after Yvonne received a protective order against him, claiming that he had abused her. Yvonne filed for divorce soon thereafter. In the divorce litigation she received another protective order, granting her the use, control, and possession of the marital home.

            On July 1, 2008 Frank sent Yvonne a notice to vacate. Yvonne failed to do so, and instead added Frank as a defendant in the divorce proceeding, asserting that she had transferred ownership of the home to Frank under duress and that the quitclaim deed should be rescinded.

            In the divorce Yvonne sought an order granting her possession of the home until the court divided the marital property. After months of motions and argument, the divorce court entered an order awarding Yvonne temporary use and possession of the home pending final resolution of the divorce.

            Yvonne next received an order in June 2012 that prevented Petter from evicting her during the pendency of the divorce. Frank was incapacitated in Norway at the time, with Petter acting on Frank’s behalf through a power of attorney.

            Finally in 2014, after Yvonne had requested several delays, a trial was convened to resolve the ownership and eviction issues. At trial a jury rejected Yvonne’s assertion that she had transferred the property to Frank under duress. On that basis, the district court concluded that Frank was the rightful owner of the property and that Yvonne was guilty of unlawful detainer starting in July 2008.

            On October 12, 2015, Yvonne vacated the home. Several months later the court convened a new trial to determine damages based on Yvonne’s unlawful occupancy of the property for over seven years – the period from July 2008 to October 2015.

            The court concluded that the fair market rental value for the property during that period was $224,534. Since State law requires an award of treble damages, the total award was increased to $673,602 plus attorney’s fees and court costs of $227,000, for a final judgment for $900,663 in Frank’s favor.

            Yvonne appealed. The court of appeals affirmed.

            Yvonne appealed again. The Supreme Court agreed to review the case.

            The Supreme Court stated that Yvonne was in a precarious position. She could have relinquished possession in July 2008 and the resultant damages would have been minimal. Or, she could elect to contest the legality of the deed she signed conveying ownership of the property to Frank, but if she is proven wrong in her litigation strategy then the damages could be enormous.

            Although the divorce court’s orders protected her from eviction, they did not insulate her from liability for damages to the owner of the property. Once it was determined that Frank lawfully owned the property, Yvonne was responsible to pay the fair market rental value for the years between the initial filing and the date of the trial court’s judgment.

            The Supreme Court concluded that Yvonne’s “. . . gamble turned out to be a bad one.” Frank wins again; Yvonne loses again. See Yvonne Martin v. Frank Kristensen; Cause 20190797, Supreme Court of Utah, May 27, 2021: https://law.justia.com/cases/utah/supreme-court/2021/20190797.html.             

            Lessons / Questions / Observations:

  1. Lesson: Do you have a tenant involved in a divorce? If the tenant attempts to seek a court order precluding the owner or manager from evicting, you’ll want to be actively engaged in that process.
  1. Observation: This Opinion does not state whether Yvonne could pay a Judgment approaching $1 million. Very few consumers could do so, and I doubt there is insurance to assist her with this huge liability.
  1. The BL: Just pure speculation, but my sense is that although the Supreme Court concluded that Frank won, I’m going with Frank lost. Frank had no rental income for over seven years and paid $227k in attorney’s fees to evict Yvonne and prove his lawful ownership of the residence. Although Judgment was rendered against Yvonne for $900k+, I’m guessing that she will pay little or none of it.

                                                                                    Stuart A. Lautin, Esq.*



* Board Certified, Commercial (1989) and Residential (1988) Real Estate Law, Texas Board of Legal Specialization

Licensed in the States of Texas and New York


Reprinted with the permission of North Texas Commercial Association of REALTORS®, Inc.