Forty two former tenants took local housing management company Isla Vista Luxury Living to court last week over security deposits disputes and “bad faith” claims — and won.
Isla Vista Luxury Living, which owns 12 properties in Isla Vista, found itself under fire when 18 separate lawsuits, totalling 46 plaintiffs, were filed with the Santa Barbara Superior Court in late August, all alleging various claims of mismanagement on the part of the company and the buildings’ owners.
Only one of the cases — with four plaintiffs, in Chang et al v. Isla Vista Luxury Living — is still pending, because the plaintiffs did not show up to court due to scheduling issues, according to lawyer Robin Unander, who works at the Associated Students Legal Resource Center.
Of the 18 cases, 10 were settled out of court; but last week, the remaining eight lawsuits were cases heard by Santa Barbara Judge P. Thomas Anderle, according to Unander, who advised the plaintiffs.
Unander, who has been with the Legal Resource Center since 2003, said that across the 18 cases, the total amount sought from the management company was $24,215. Of that, the plaintiffs received $13,785 back in money initially put into security deposits and $1,200 in “bad faith” charges — meaning the plaintiffs proved the management company had acted in violation of an agreement.
Unander emphasized that from her perspective, the owners of Isla Vista Luxury Living hadn’t acted in a malicious manner — they just “clearly didn’t have a handle on the law the way they thought they did,” and that these cases were “a real education for them.”
“I think this landlord learned a lot in the three days we were in court,” she said. “They didn’t consider that they were abusing the tenants’ deposits. They really felt they were entitled to take what they took.”
There are 12 properties listed on the Isla Vista Luxury Living website: 760 Embarcadero Del Norte, 6656 Picasso, 6659 Abrego , 6599 Madrid, 6565 Segovia, 6629 Sabado Tarde, 910 Camino Pescadero, 897 Camino Del Sur, 6578 Trigo, 6510 Sabado Tarde, 6508 Seville and 6517 El Greco.
Isla Vista Luxury Living was created in July 2018, according to California business records. Its owners are Bijan Moshayedi and his father, Mike, who currently resides in Newport Beach; according to Unander and several of the tenants who spoke to the Nexus, a man named Keenan Duran serves as the properties’ manager.
According to Unander, it was during Spring Quarter 2019 and the beginning of summer that the Isla Vista Tenants Union saw an uptick in the number of people coming in. While the union typically sees an increase when leases end, she noticed that a large number of people were complaining about the same landlord: Isla Vista Luxury Living.
One tenant, Tyler Wells, created a Facebook group to help keep track of all the complaints; as of Thursday, the group has 92 members.
For the past several months, tenants have posted complaints and concerns about I.V. Luxury Living to the group, including duplicate charges, not receiving receipts for work done, charges for what they believed to be normal wear and tear, alleged excess charges for painting and carpet cleaning, among others — one plaintiff posted about a $120 billing charge he received for a broken toilet paper holder, and another said they were charged $45 to replace a lightbulb.
One plaintiff and member of the Facebook group, Natalie Mazmanian in the case of Mazmanian v. Isla Vista Luxury Living, told the Nexus that, among other charges she later disputed, she had been charged for a water filter in her apartment at 760 Embarcadero Del Norte — a water filter that had never existed in the first place.
“It was more the principles than it was money, honestly,” Mazmanian told the Nexus. “It was a year [under their] management, and all we ever did was have problems … [Duran] had no sort of management skills coming into this.”
Mazmanian was also charged $559 for a cleaning fee, $90 to replace two lights in the living room and for water damage for kitchen cabinets — water damage, she said, that was caused by the absence of a water filter.
According to Unander, the Moshayedis’ first property was acquired when Bijan was a student at UC Santa Barbara in 2009. Bijan’s name is attached to at least nine properties in the Santa Barbara area, according to Santa Barbara clerk recorder records. Mike’s is attached to at least one.
University spokesperson Andrea Estrada confirmed that someone with the name Bijan Moshayedi attended UCSB between Fall Quarter 2007 and Summer 2011.
Bijan Moshayedi and Duran did not respond to requests for comment.
According to Unander, the Moshayedis created Isla Vista Luxury Living after splitting from its former management company, Meridian Group Real Estate, during the summer of 2018.
Deedy Hedrick, a property supervisor for Meridian who managed the Moshayedis’ properties from 2014 to summer 2018, also testified in support of some of the plaintiffs, according to Unander. Hedrick testified in one case that the amount the plaintiffs were charged for cleaning was double than what was typically charged for “extra heavy cleaning,” according to court documents.
Of the eight cases that went to trial, all received money back, although the amounts awarded varied. But in two cases — Pena et al v. Isla Vista Luxury Living and McBride et al v. Isla Vista Luxury Living — Judge Anderle found that the management company had acted in bad faith and awarded the plaintiffs the full security deposits plus additional compensation.
“The Court spent hours on this case trying to ferret out what and why the events occurred,” Judge Anderle wrote in his decision in Pena v. Isla Vista Luxury Living. He stated that the management company had “vastly overcharged in this case” and that the plaintiffs did “everything that could be expected of tenants.”
“[Plaintiffs] did a thorough job of documenting the move-in and move-out. On the other hand the Luxury Living documentation was cursory at best and irresponsible at worst,” he added.
Pena, a Santa Barbara City College student who asked to be referred to only by her last name, explained that when she and her partner first moved into their apartment at 6565 Segovia, it was managed by Meridian.
But once Isla Vista Luxury Living took over, she said the manager, Duran repeatedly ignored her requests for routine maintenance, even one request for him to fix the “staples or nails” coming out of the carpet. When it did come time to move out, the company did not return any of her deposit.
She added that she and her partner “took pictures of everything” and “had every [communication with Duran] in text,” which she said is likely why she was awarded the full security deposit plus additional compensation.
In McBride v. Isla Vista Luxury Living, Judge Anderle awarded the plaintiffs their full security deposit back, as well as an additional $314, in part because Duran had “told the plaintiffs there were ‘no problems’ … leading them to conclude they would get their security deposit back.”
The judge added that there was nothing in the move-out report “that reflects any viable issues.”
Kelsey McBride, a class of 2019 graduate, told the Nexus that when she moved out of her apartment, her and her roommates “cleaned for two days,” adding that “it was in better condition that when we moved in.”
But after they moved out, even though Duran had told McBride — with her mother as a witness — that her whole security deposit would be returned, they only received three quarters of what they had been told. They were also charged hundreds of dollars for carpet cleaning and painting.
“We did nothing wrong,” McBride said. “They owed us money. We took action to get that money rightfully returned to us.”
The amount of money settled by plaintiffs out of court was not available. Of the cases that went to trial, besides Pena’s and McBride’s, Judge Anderle awarded nearly all of them about half of what they sued for.
All the plaintiffs who talked to the Nexus stated they had only ever dealt with Duran and not the owners directly.
Unander hopes other Isla Vistans will see these cases and “stand up and do something” if their landlord is mistreating them.
“Landlords have become accustomed to the students basically complaining about things, but then doing nothing. The fact that we were able to coordinate 18 different units … that’s huge.”
A version of this article appeared on pg. 1 of the Nov. 7, 2019 print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Evelyn Spence harbors a great love for em dashes and runs on nothing but iced coffee, Jolly Ranchers and breaking news. Currently, she serves as the County News Editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.