John Arbenz (plaintiff) leased a building to Exley, Watkins & Co. (Exley) (defendant) for a five-year-and-three-month term, starting January 1, 1896 and ending March 31, 1902, at an annual rent of $700. After Exley had occupied the building for some time, a fire destroyed it in September 1898. Exley paid the September and October rent installments, but also sent Arbenz a letter, dated October 31, 1898, informing Arbenz that Exley vacated the building and “hereby” surrendered possession. In November 1899, Arbenz brought suit against Exley to recover the rent for the period between November 1, 1898 and October 31, 1899. The court awarded Arbenz $700. In August 1903, Arbenz again sued Exley to recover rent for the period between November 1, 1899 and December 31, 1902. The court awarded Arbenz $148.15 for November and December 1899, but held that Arbenz could not recover any rent accrued after the end of 1899 because, at that point, the year-to-year tenancy had ended by virtue of Exley’s October 1898 letter. Arbenz appealed.