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New Trial Sought to Overturn Victory of Santa Monica Man Fighting Eviction

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark

Pacific Park, Santa Monica Pier

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore
Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

February 11, 2015 -- Just days after a Santa Monica jury dealt a victory to a local man fighting eviction from his apartment of 24 years, the landlord he sued has filed to have the ruling overturned and is asking that  a new trial be set.

A Santa Monica jury voted 12 to 0 on February 4 in favor of Paul Aron, who has lived at 2637 Centinela Avenue in Santa Monica since 1991 and alleged in court that the landlord, Barbara Bills of WIB Holdings LLC, was trying to illegally oust him so she’d no long have to rent at rent-control rates.

The jury also found that Bills’ attempt to evict was conducted with malice.
Bills could not be reached for comment.

But Frances Campbell, who represented Aron, said she received notice Tuesday that the landlord was seeking a new trial, and asking that the jury’s vote be overturned in the landlord’s favor.

The matter is set to go back before Santa Monica Court Judge Bobbi Tillman on March 12, said Campbell.

Campbell said that she wasn’t surprised by the defendant’s move. She noted that the landlord is also being sued by the City of Santa Monica for harassing Aron and two neighboring tenants and that the jury’s decision in Aron’s favor could weaken the landlord’s case with the City.

It was, she said, “a David versus Goliath” victory.

“This was a big win by the tenant and a big loss by the landlord,” said Campbell, of Campbell and Farahani, housing-rights attorneys based in Sherman Oaks.

Santa Monica City Councilmember Sue Himmelrich said she wasn’t surprised by the landlord’s post-verdict legal moves.  Himmelrich, a lawyer with the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said such motions are standard.

“It’s not unusual to see this,” Himmelrich said.

But Himmelrich added that Bills does not represent the majority of landlords, most of whom want good tenants and are willing to treat them well.

“She’s a great example of what you’d call a bad landlord,” Himmelrich said.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s lawsuit against Bills and WIB Holdings LLC contends intimidation tactics were used to force Aron and two other longtime tenants out of their rent-controlled apartments.

The lawsuit came after Aron, along with fellow tenants Patricia Barkley and Curtis Failor, alleged Bills entered their apartments claiming to inspect smoke detectors and leaky faucets. In reality, the tenants say, she was looking for changed living conditions that could give her grounds for eviction.

“Unless the defendants are enjoined from conducting unlawful inspections and similar misconduct, the current and future tenants at the Property and other Santa Monica buildings owned by the defendants are likely to suffer irreparable injury in the loss of their legal rights as tenants,” the lawsuit says.

The 1996 Costa Hawkins Rental Act, which went into full effect in 1999, allows landlords to charge market rates for units voluntarily vacated or if the tenant is evicted for non-payment of rent.

The suit alleges that Bills violated her right of access and is “part of a scheme to influence the three tenants to vacate their apartments through fraud, intimidation or coercion” after they rejected the buy-out offer.

The actions also violated Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance.
The three tenants in the lawsuit reportedly pay in the $700s for their units, far below other rents there, which typically range from about $1,500 to more than $2,000.

Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades said his office had no comment on the city’s lawsuit because it is still pending.

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