Appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County. No. 99--LM--4104 Honorable Hollis L. Webster, Judge, Presiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Geiger.
The issue in this appeal is whether an estate of homestead asserted by a condominium unit owner who is in arrears on condominium assessments is a defense to a condominium association's action in forcible entry and detainer. The circuit court ruled that an estate of homestead is not a defense to a forcible entry and detainer action in such circumstances. We reverse the ruling.
On December 27, 1999, the plaintiff, Knolls Condominium Association, filed a complaint in forcible entry and detainer against the defendant, Mary E. Harms. The complaint alleged that the plaintiff was entitled to possession of 6161 Knoll Way Drive, No. 105, in Willowbrook (the property), a condominium unit, because the defendant was indebted to the plaintiff for unpaid maintenance assessments related to the property in the amount of $2,326.40 plus costs and attorney fees. The complaint also alleged that the defendant was unlawfully withholding possession of the property from the plaintiff.
In her answer to the complaint, the defendant denied that the plaintiff was entitled to possession of the property or that she was unlawfully withholding possession of the property from the plaintiff. The defendant also asserted, as an affirmative defense, that she was the owner and resident of the property; that she was entitled to an estate of homestead in the property; and that her estate of homestead was a proper defense to the plaintiff's action in forcible entry and detainer.
At a hearing on the matter, the parties stipulated that the defendant owed the plaintiff past-due maintenance assessments in the amount of $2,326.40. The trial court ruled that an estate of homestead was not a proper defense to the plaintiff's forcible entry and detainer action. The trial court also found that the plaintiff's request for attorney fees in the amount of $287.50 was reasonable.
Following the hearing, the trial court issued a written order that denied the defendant's affirmative defense; found that the plaintiff was entitled to possession of the property; and entered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $2,326.40 plus $287.50 in attorney fees. The defendant's timely notice of appeal followed.
On appeal, the defendant contends that she is entitled to a reversal of the trial court's order because her claim of homestead was a proper defense to the plaintiff's forcible entry and detainer action. The defendant argues that an estate of homestead is a possessory right that cannot be divested by a forcible entry and detainer action.
The plaintiff acknowledges that, as a general rule, an estate of homestead is a proper defense to a forcible entry and detainer action. However, the plaintiff points to various sections of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code) (735 ILCS 5/1--101 et seq. (West 2000)) and argues that these statutes show that a forcible entry and detainer action may be maintained in circumstances such as those in this case regardless of an estate of homestead.
The statute governing the estate of homestead is also a part of the Code (735 ILCS 5/12--901 et seq. (West 2000)). Citing various sections of this homestead statute, defendant responds by asserting that her estate of homestead in the property was a proper defense to the plaintiff's forcible entry and detainer action.
The parties agree, and appear to be correct, that their dispute raises an issue of statutory construction that is an issue of first impression. The primary rule of statutory construction is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. v. Pappas, 194 Ill. 2d 99, 106 (2000). The language of the statute generally provides the best indication of the legislature's intent. In re Consolidated Objections to Tax Levies of School District No. 205, 193 Ill. 2d 490, 496 (2000). Where the language used leaves uncertainty as to its interpretation in a particular context, a court can consider the purpose behind the statute and the evils that the statute was designed to remedy. Phoenix Bond, 194 Ill. 2d at 106. A court should not construe a statute in a way that would defeat its purpose or yield an absurd or unjust result. Phoenix Bond, 194 Ill. 2d at 107. Because the construction of a statute is a question of law, our review is de novo. Consolidated Objections to Tax Levies, 193 Ill. 2d at 496.
The plaintiff relies on various sections of the part of the Code that governs a forcible entry and detainer action (735 ILCS 5/9--101 et seq. (West 2000)). One of these is section 9--102(a)(7), which provides, in relevant part, that an action in forcible entry and detainer may be maintained "[w]hen any property is subject to the provisions of the Condominium Property Act [and] the owner of a unit fails or refuses to pay when due his or her proportionate share of the common expenses of such property." 735 ILCS 5/9--102(a)(7) (West 2000).
The plaintiff also cites section 9--111(a), which provides, in relevant part:
"As to property subject to the provisions of the 'Condominium Property Act', *** if the court finds that the expenses or fines are due to the plaintiff, the plaintiff shall be entitled to the possession of the whole of the premises claimed, and judgment in favor of the plaintiff shall be entered for the possession thereof and for the amount found due by the court including interest and late charges, if any, ...