Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Carter v. Cohen (Cal. Ct. App. - Sept. 28, 2010)

Jerry Cohen's a young attorney in the Valley.  (That's the San Fernando Valley for those not alive in the 80s or participants in the porn industry.)  Went to Cal State Northridge and then Loyola Law School.  Admitted in 1997.  Doing a little of this and a little of that.

He buys a house in North Hollywood.  There's a renter in the guest house who's been there for a couple of years, so Jerry let's her stay.  But he jacks up the rent.  She was paying $890 a month.  He makes it $1475.  Gotta pay those bar dues, after all.

A year later he makes it $1585.  Then, in another year, $1685.  The renter, Lauren Carter, has had enough.  She gives her 30-day notice to leave.  Fair enough.

Lauren wants to apply her security deposit to the last month's rent, but Jerry says no way.  When she doesn't pay the last month's rent (wanting, again, to apply her security deposit), Jerry files a lawsuit to evict her.  He voluntarily dismisses the eviction proceeding when she moves out.  Victory.

Or is it?

Lauren's no lawyer, but at this point, she's pissed.  So she reports Jerry to the L.A. Department of Building Services.  Which comes out and says, yep, the guesthouse was built without permits and no one should be living there.  So now Jerry can't rent the thing again.  Filing that eviction action wasn't the greatest move in retrospect, eh?

But that's not all.  Several months later, Lauren gets a lawyer of her own.  And sues Jerry, claiming that he increased her rent in violation of the L.A.'s rent control ordinance.


So now Jerry's got to go to trial.  And this one doesn't get voluntarily dismissed.  Moreover, at trial, he loses, and the jury finds that Jerry charged Lauren over $11,000 in excess rent.

But the pain's not over.  Post-trial, Jerry successfully avoids the trebling of the jury's $11,000 award by convincing the trial court that his conduct wasn't willful.  But that doesn't get him out of his own attorney's fees.  Or Lauren's.  In addition to the $11,000+, the trial court awards Lauren over $25,000 in attorney's fees, as well as over $5,000 in costs.

Jerry files an appeal.  But the Court of Appeal affirms.  Oh, yeah.  And expressly awards Lauren additional attorney's fees and costs on appeal.


Guess that North Hollywood guest house ended up costing a pretty penny, eh?