I like to think that most landlords are decent and honorable and treat their tenants well, keeping the premises in good condition and timely refunding deposits.
But I also know, especially as our office represents a lot of landlords, good ones only of course, that a few landlords are unscrupulous. In any barrel you can always find a “bad apple.”
Meet Raj Singh.
THE RENTAL UNIT
Raj Singh rented a house to Tammy Fernandes. It was not habitable. After a short period, Fernandes complained about the substandard conditions of her unit which was met by a lawsuit for eviction filed by Singh. Singh filed the lawsuit under a false name because he was a well known “vexatious litigant” for his evictions, in fact on the court’s vexatious litigant list. Singh’s former attorney, Keith Oliver, was later disbarred partially for his actions relating to Singh.
Singh refused to make any repairs even though he was ordered to do so by a court, yet he was brazen enough to file a third eviction (unlawful detainer) lawsuit against Fernandes. To do so Singh filed a fraudulent proof of service, took her default, obtained an eviction order and had the sheriff evict her. Then he changed the locks. The ultimate no-no.
Fernandes returned home after working a graveyard shift as a waitress at a Denny’s restaurant to find herself locked out, with deputies barring her entrance, so she could not “retrieve even her most rudimentary belongings” as the court wrote. She had to stay with friends and struggled to keep her job.
IT GETS WORSE
But it gets worse. Singh failed to comply with a court order to return the property Fernandes had left in her unit. She found some of her belongings in a trash can.
Not to be denied, Singh re-rented the unit… without making any repairs, then served a three-day notice to vacate on his new tenant – with more fraudulent allegations.
UTTERLY INDEFENSIBLE BEHAVIOR
Fernandes’ case against Singh made it to court and the trial judge found “Singh rented uninhabitable premises to Fernandes at an exorbitant rental rate and then retaliated against her when she complained about the uninhabitable conditions. His conduct is utterly indefensible.”
On Fernandes’ claims for punitive damages, Singh predictably argued that he had suffered financial harm and was entitled to damages of over $200,000, as well as sanctions of $1,000,000. This unscrupulous guy (and his wife Kiran Rawat) never quit.
The trial judge awarded Fernandes damages of $88,000 plus punitive damages of $350,000 plus attorney’s fees against Singh and Rawat, as evidence showed they own a lot of property in Sacramento County.
Singh and Rawat unsuccessfully filed motion after motion to defend their despicable behavior.
SACRAMENTO COURT OF APPEAL
The Third District Court of Appeal reviewed the evidence and upheld the damage and punitive damage awards against Singh and Rawat writing:
“Singh and Rawat …engaged in conduct that was intentional, malicious, fraudulent and oppressive. The evidence likewise establishes their actions were part of a continuing course of conduct and a method of doing business rather than an isolated event…oppressive tactics.”
Thankfully Justices Duarte, Blease and Nicholson laid down the law. Congrats on your retirement Justice Nicholson.
Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon licensed in California and Nevada, with offices in Truckee and Tahoe City, California, and Reno, Nevada. Jim’s practice areas include: real estate, development, construction, business, HOA’s, contracts, personal injury, accidents, mediation and other transactional matters. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.portersimon.com.
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