By Carole Conn, LRIS Public Service Programs Director
In March 2016, SF-Marin Lawyer Referral and Information Services (LRIS) Supervisor, Antonio Hernandez, fielded an incoming call. The caller was a 64-year old artist and maintenance person to a collection of apartments in exchange for rent. He lived on the property in a basement apartment that he helped to renovate. The caller explained that the basement space, not unlike other units on the property, had a range of habitability problems. For instance, he had to use a sink and bathroom facilities located outside his unit in the property manager’s office. He further explained that, after eight years of the arrangement, the property manager turned on him, alleging he was a trespasser who had never paid rent.
After a month of actions by the property manager that included lockouts and three separate calls to the police claiming the client was a trespasser, the displaced tenant was homeless and had lost most of his possessions.
Hernandez referred the tenant to LRIS Panel attorney Joseph Lepera, a practitioner with 17 years of experience handling both landlord-tenant and employment matters. Lepera learned outrageous additional details including the property manager kicking down the client’s front door, nailing shut his back door, locking the client out and pulling out all electrical wiring in his unit, which the tenant rewired once police let him back into his residence. Lepera furthered the client’s claim, arguing the landlord and property manager committed serious employment violations. Under California Labor Code § 226 (e), the tenant was entitled to recover the greater of all actual damages for the initial pay period in which a violation occurred; one hundred dollars for each violation in a subsequent pay period; and was entitled to an award of cost and reasonable attorney’s fees.
“Not only did the landlord and his property manager commit egregious, illegal acts but also, picked on the nicest, most humble person. It has been a pleasure to help this sympathetic client and to have enabled a better future,” says Lepera.
Lepera prevailed under claims for wrongful/tortious eviction and employment violations to receive a mediated settlement of $500,000 for the tenant. Also knowing that this vulnerable client needed support with managing more money than he has ever had, Lepera helped him set up a bank account and then, after the settlement arrived, accompanied him to the bank to ensure he deposited the funds correctly. Lepera also asked the bank to schedule a wealth management consultant to meet with him and the client. Shortly thereafter, they met with wealth advisors and discussed strategies that would provide the client income for the rest of his life.
Joseph A. Lepera is the Managing Partner of Lepera + Associates. He practices in the areas of Employment, Real Estate, Business and Personal Injury law and in 2007 and 2008, he won the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Championships.
The SF-Marin LRIS receives nearly 60,000 calls annually from the public in need of legal representation. It is a a State Bar Certified Referral Program, model referral service, and is well-known nationally for its outstanding legal assistance to the public. Refer with confidence those clients outside your practice area: (415) 989-1616 or www.sfbar.org/lris.