Cameron v. Las Orchidias Props., LLC

Decision Date22 August 2022
Docket NumberB313971 consolidated with B316033
Citation82 Cal.App.5th 481,298 Cal.Rptr.3d 430
Parties Erin CAMERON, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. LAS ORCHIDIAS PROPERTIES, LLC, Defendant and Appellant.
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals

82 Cal.App.5th 481
298 Cal.Rptr.3d 430

Erin CAMERON, Plaintiff and Respondent,
LAS ORCHIDIAS PROPERTIES, LLC, Defendant and Appellant.

B313971 consolidated with B316033

Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 5, California.

Filed August 22, 2022

Horvitz & Levy, David M. Axelrad and Shane H. McKenzie, Burbank; Craig Mordoh, Santa Monica, for Defendant and Appellant.

Campbell & Farahani and Frances M. Campbell and Nima Farahani, Sherman Oaks, for Plaintiff and Respondent.


82 Cal.App.5th 493

Defendant and Appellant Las Orchidias Properties, LLC, (LOP) appeals the trial court's judgment in favor of Plaintiff and Respondent Erin Cameron (Cameron) on her causes of action for wrongful eviction and financial elder abuse following a bench trial, the court's order denying LOP's motion for new trial, and the court's order awarding attorney fees and costs to Cameron.

LOP contends that (1) it was unfairly surprised at trial because the pleadings were inadequate to put LOP on notice of Cameron's claims; (2) Cameron failed to prove financial elder abuse; (3) the trial court erred in the admission and exclusion of evidence; (4) Cameron is not entitled to damages, or alternatively, her damages should be limited; and (5) the award of attorney fees and costs should be reversed.

We affirm the trial court's judgment, order denying the motion for new trial, and order awarding Cameron attorney fees.


Cameron moved into an apartment located at 6907 Bonita Terrace in Los Angeles in 1964. In 2003, LOP purchased Las Orchidias, the nine-unit

82 Cal.App.5th 494

apartment complex in which Cameron's apartment was located, for $2.4 million. Cameron's apartment and the other units in the complex were rent-stabilized.

Jon Padgett and Mark Howell were the controlling members of LOP. About two years after LOP purchased Las Orchidias, Padgett came to Cameron's door with a large dog and knocked loudly. When she opened the door he said "I want your unit." He did not greet her, he just said, "I want your unit." Cameron had "a real sense of -- anxiety, if not downright fear at that time." She did not know what to say. Cameron invited Padgett in. He offered to pay her $25,000 to leave her apartment. Cameron declined. She said, "I don't really care what you offer me, I don't want to move. I like it here. I love it here. It's home. I've been here many years. And, you know, I don't want to leave." Cameron's heart was pounding. She testified, "I did not want to leave, and I was afraid."

On January 20, 2015, Padgett filed a Notice of Intent to Withdraw Units From Rental Housing Use under the Ellis Act with the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (the Department). The four units that LOP planned to remove from rental use included 1903–1905 Orchid Avenue and 6907 and 6907 ½ Bonita Terrace. At that time, LOP intended to convert the complex into condominiums.

298 Cal.Rptr.3d 440

Padgett and Howell sent Cameron a letter informing her that her tenancy would be terminated on May 20, 2015. The letter included a notice of impending withdrawal and informed Cameron that she had the right to extend her tenancy by one year.1 The notice also stated that if the unit was returned to the rental market within five years, LOP was required to offer Cameron the right to return to her apartment, provided that she requested such an offer in writing within 30 days.

Cameron timely invoked her right to extend her tenancy through January 20, 2016, and her right to return if the unit was reoffered for rent within five years.

Cameron did not move out on January 20, 2016, and LOP initiated an unlawful detainer action against her. Ultimately, the parties entered into a stipulated judgment under which Cameron agreed to vacate the apartment by July 1, 2016.

82 Cal.App.5th 495

Cameron left her home on June 29, 2016, after Padgett threatened that if she was not out by midnight it would be a "lockout eviction." Cameron was in "very bad shape emotionally," and could not accept that she was going to have to leave her home of 52 years. At the time that she left, Cameron's rent was $1,088.26 per month. Cameron rented a new, smaller apartment for $1,875 per month. She could not fit all of her belongings in the new apartment, so she rented a storage unit for $274 per month.

LOP had started construction on Las Orchidias in 2014, which continued through 2019. Padgett testified that Roger Henry performed managerial tasks at Las Orchidias and provided a presence to deter crime when the units were not rented. Padgett "had [Roger Henry] staying at the building throughout [construction]." Henry "stayed in all of the units," including Cameron's. LOP did not compensate Henry for his services, but instead "allowed him use of the property." Leases for 1903 and 1905 Orchid Avenue that were executed in January 2019 stated that Henry was authorized to manage Las Orchidias and listed his address as 6907 Bonita Terrace.

The construction costs went over-budget, so Padgett decided to put four units, including Cameron's apartment, back on the rental market. On July 26, 2018, LOP filed with the Department a notice of intent to return the units located at 1903 and 1905 Orchid Avenue to the rental market. On August 30, 2018, LOP filed a notice of intent to return the units located at 6907 (Cameron's apartment) and 6907 ½ Bonita Terrace to the rental market. Edward Jacobs, who worked for the Department, wrote to LOP regarding its obligations, including the obligation to re-rent to displaced tenants. LOP, however, intended to rent exclusively to short-term tenants so that it could deliver the premises unoccupied to the eventual buyer, as an unoccupied property would command a higher price.

The Department notified the displaced tenants that their apartments would be returned to the rental market, and that they had the right to re-rent if they informed the Department and LOP that they intended to do so. Jacobs called Cameron

298 Cal.Rptr.3d 441

to convey the news. Cameron was "thrilled" at the prospect of returning home, and timely notified LOP of her intent. James Boothby, who had formerly lived in the apartment above Cameron at 6907 ½ Bonita Terrace, also informed the Department and LOP of his intent to return to his apartment.

LOP's attorney sent Cameron a letter that stated: "Unfortunately, my client has decided not to offer the unit to you at this time. [¶] In accordance with Government Code Section 7060.2(b)(2), enclosed please find a check in the sum of $6,649.56, representing six months [sic ] rent for the above unit. This constitutes full payment of any damages you may be entitled to for my

82 Cal.App.5th 496

client's failure to re-rent to you." A check was enclosed, dated June 20, 2018 in the amount of $6,649.56. Cameron did not cash the check. Receiving the letter made Cameron feel like she had been punched in the stomach. She was "literally sick at [her] stomach." Boothby received an identical letter (with the exception that his monthly rent and corresponding check were higher). Boothby negotiated with LOP and relinquished his right to re-rent in exchange for a payment of $14,000.

Padgett testified that LOP did not re-rent to Cameron because LOP "needed to maintain the building as an empty property" so it would be "a more valuable product." LOP's real estate agent estimated that Las Orchidias could sell for $14 million if delivered unoccupied. Padgett did not believe Cameron would leave when Las Orchidias sold because "if somebody's lived in a unit for as long as she has ... she would not be amenable to leaving and meet our criteria that we were selling the building empty." Padgett did not feel that Cameron's right to return "would trump what [LOP's] plans were for the development." Las Orchidias was later sold unoccupied for $12.5 million.

Padgett conceded that he spoke to Jacobs who informed him that LOP could not avoid re-renting to Cameron by paying six months’ rent. Jacobs said he would likely refer the matter to the city. Although this concerned Padgett, it did not ultimately affect his decision not to honor Cameron's right to return. Padgett conceded in testimony that payment of six months’ rent was an admission that LOP had violated Cameron's right to return.

Trial Court's Statement of Decision

The trial court concluded that LOP violated Los Angeles Municipal Code (LAMC) section 151.27 by refusing Cameron her right to reoccupy her apartment after it re-entered the rental market in 2018. "[Cameron] clearly and timely exercised her right of return, both in 2015 (Exhibit 4) and 2018 (Exhibit 8), and she was firmly told through [LOP's] attorney that her right of return was not going to be respected." The court found that LOP's letter refusing to re-rent the apartment to Cameron "was designed to trick [Cameron] into believing that she had no viable recourse by way of court action", and that LOP "was trying to hood wink [Cameron] into believing that [LOP] had the right to deny [Cameron] her right to return and that any damages she could recover for this violation would be limited to $6,649.56". Under LAMC section 151.02, when a landlord receives services in lieu of rent it is no different than receiving rent. The trial court therefore found that LOP rented Cameron's apartment to Henry after she moved out on June 29, 2016. The leases for 1903 and 1905 Orchid Avenue showed that Henry was living in Cameron's apartment in February 2019. Moreover, Padgett's testimony that he had Henry staying at Las Orchidias during construction from

82 Cal.App.5th 497

2014 through 2019 to house sit, "have a presence at the property,"

298 Cal.Rptr.3d 442

and perform managerial tasks while staying in the various units without compensation, led the court to find that Henry lived in Cameron's unit between June 30, 2016, and the date the property was sold in 2020.

The trial court concluded that "the same conduct, the refusal to re-rent to [Cameron], constitutes financial elder abuse." Cameron's "right to return to her...

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