One of three tenants who City Hall says were harassed by their landlord avoided eviction in court last week.
Paul Aron prevailed in an unlawful detainer case brought against him by his landlord Barbara Bills, according to Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades.
In a separate case, City Hall is suing Bills for alleged tenant harassment of Aron and two other tenants. Rhoades said that Aron’s recent win will help City Hall’s cause in that lawsuit.
“A jury not only let him stay in his home of twenty years but all twelve jurors agreed, after hearing Bills and Aaron (sic) testify on the stand, that Bills had acted with maliciousness in her attempt to evict him,” Rhoades said in an email to the Daily Press.
Bills’ attorney has filed a brief, asking that City Hall’s suit be thrown out before trial. With Aron’s victory, city attorneys can add to their response to that brief.
In filing the lawsuit, city attorneys claimed, among many other things, that she fabricated a need to inspect smoke detectors so that she could gain entry to the apartments and find reasons to evict the tenants.
In their response to Bills’ brief, city attorneys now claim that she admits to deliberately tricking the tenants into allowing them into their homes.
“In her declaration and brief, she describes in detail how she cooked up the idea of smoke detector notices in hopes of finding a way to get rid of long-term tenants,” the response says. “The import of that admission to the smokescreen is that it supports the city’s claims of intentional and fraudulent harassment and interference with privacy.”
Once inside, the response says, Bills claims to have found “illegal alterations.
Santa Monica’s Rent Control laws keep rents from increasing to market rate. As property values rise in the city by the sea, the incentive to evict long-term tenants becomes greater. The maximum rents for the three tenants that City Hall says have been harassed is less than $800 for each apartment. They all live in one-bedroom units on Centinela Avenue.
Claims of tenant harassment are also rising and City Council has spent hours in the last year discussing an appropriate response. Many who spoke at the meetings claimed that bogus eviction cases are one weapon used by landlords to oust renters. Fighting the cases can be confusing or too costly for renters.
City Hall can’t defend tenants in eviction cases but it can sue the landlord for harassment, as it is doing against Bills.
The lawsuit claims that Bills entered Patricia Barkley’s home and, without permission, and began videotaping. In another instance, it claims, Bills entered Barkley’s bedroom, uninvited, and began taking pictures with her cell phone while Barkley lay in bed.
Bills’ attorneys did not immediately respond to request for comment.
There’s is no trial date set for City Hall’s case against Bills.