Ten: Darth Landlord – Episode I

Posted: October 22, 2012 in The Road to Skid Row

Darth Landlord was an unscrupulous property developer with a small empire in Los Angeles and a history of abusive behaviour. His parents gave him the name Bill Bernstein, but his tenants rechristened him “Darth Landlord”. Or as one tenant fondly called him, “that prick.”

This was Kate’s former boss, the man Kate’s flatmate Martin had turned against her and who now refused to give Kate her job back or even write her a reference. This was the asshole we were about to meet in his Beverly Hills office.

I dug around and turfed up all kinds of shit on this guy. Bill Bernstein was one mean hombre.

Breaking the law was nothing to him. Seven years earlier Bernstein had a class action lawsuit slapped on him for harassment, abuse and discrimination of tenants. 20 tenants, mostly working class Hispanics, clubbed together to file the suit.

Witnesses testified that Bernstein delayed making repairs to their apartments. He also instructed his residential managers to put three-day eviction notices on the doors of tenants the day after rent was due, not giving them the customary three days to pay their rent before threatening eviction. That was just the beginning of the onslaught. Bernstein wasn’t being a jerk just for kicks however, he had motives.

In a deposition, Bernstein said he bought the apartments intending to renovate them and rent them out at a much higher rate. Existing tenants couldn’t afford the new rates, so they wanted to keep the status quo. Apparently Bernstein tried offering cash incentives to get rid of them, but most tenants wouldn’t bite. That’s when he cranked up the pressure.

Two sets of residential managers weren’t comfortable with the scare tactics so they quit. Bernstein wouldn’t give up, however. He hried two guys whose sole qualification was their lack of conscience. Apartments were broken into, personal property was vandalized and children were banned from playing in the courtyard. When kids broke the ban, they turned the water sprinklers on and soaked them. One tenant tried standing up to them; he quickly found himself in jail on trumped up charges of assault. Charges that were later thrown out by the police.

Now were up against the same crook. A man who would stop at nothing to get his way. In a few minutes we would take on Darth Landlord, the most evil proprietor in the universe.

Tune in on Thursday for the next installment of The Road to Skid Row.

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