A jury upheld an eviction order against long-time Berkeley resident Larry Menard, despite claims that Menard and his family are being forced out in an attempt to remove residents and raise rents at the 2327 Prince St. apartment building.
The 12-member-jury, in Alameda Superior Court, voted unanimously to uphold Berkeley landlord Behrouz Mazandarani’s order to quit, served to Menard and his family in December of last year.
According to Behrouz, the eviction order was based on a series of nuisance charges against Menard. He claimed that the 18-year resident had broken the lock on the front door of the building, removed plywood and broken a door to the roof and failed to keep his golden-retriever mix, Flammeche, on a leash inside the building.
Neighbors, along with the Menard family, have protested the eviction order, signing petitions and writing letters to Behrouz in support of Menard, his wife Cathy and their 15-year-old son, Loic.
Members of the Halcyon Neighborhood Association urged Mazandarani to reconsider his eviction order citing Menard’s good reputation and his participation in improving the Halcyon neighborhood, organizing park cleanups and crime watch activities.
"They have been wonderful assets to our neighborhood. I’m very upset to see this injustice take place and it is clearly an injustice," said Nancy Carleton, HNA co-chairperson.
Menard claims that Mazandarani, who purchased the building in November of 1999, has served five separate eviction notices since taking over and is systematically evicting all long-term residents in the building.
Behrouz, however, denies charges that he is seeking to evict long-term residents and raise rents, emphasizing that he has charged below market rent on a number of units in the building.
“The claims are completely untrue,” says Mazandarani.
Mazandarani claims that Menard’s case is not a part of larger conspiracy but about Menard’s repeated destruction of property, violations of building policy and charges that Menard has intimidated other residents and Mazandarani himself.
“I’m afraid he would harm me. I’m afraid he would harm other residents,” said Mazandarani.
According to Menard’s lawyer, Ira Jacobowitz, Mazandarani is blaming Menard for destruction of property caused by a previous tenant, Zach Henderson, already evicted by Mazandarani.
Jacobowitz says that Menard has admitted to removing plywood nailed to the door leading to the roof but that inspectors from the Berkeley Fire Department had ordered that the plywood be taken down because it created a fire hazard.
Mazandarani claims that the support of neighbors and character issues are irrelevant in this case because Menard’s neighbors do not know all the facts.
According to John Barry, a current resident of the building, he did sign the petition supporting Larry Menard but was concerned most about the welfare of Menard's family, not Menard himself.
“I'm not a huge fan of Larry's. I do like the family. I wish they were staying and I wish Behrouz would cut them some slack,” said Barry.
Barry also said that he offered to act as a mediator between Menard and Mazandarani but that Menard told him not to talk to Mazandarani.
According to Mazandarani, only the opinions of the members of the jury count in this case.
“The case of eviction usually takes two days but this jury had eight days to hear evidence from every angle, to examine everything from the boiler to the roof to the front door. The result was a unanimous decision,” said Mazandarani.
According to Mazandarani, Menard was caught on tape tampering with the front door and walking on the roof by a camera Mazandarani set up himself. Mazandarani says the tape was not used in court because Menard agreed to admit to tampering with the door.
Both Menard and his wife Cathy Aubron claim Mazandarani lied continuously while in court adding that he repeatedly changed his accusations as the trial went on.
“Not to be trapped in his own lies he became very evasive,” said Aubron.
According to Mazandarani, Menard’s work as a tenant’s rights supporter made him a difficult resident to deal with. Mazandarani explained that Menard’s contribution to the building was to gather support against him and not to improve living conditions.
“He has certain needs to be against landlords. He has needs for making landlords look bad and making himself the savior of the tenants,” says Mazandarani.
Menard, with the support of neighbors and family, says that he has worked to make the building safer and cleaner and that Mazandarani is the one that has allowed for conditions to deteriorate.
“He wants to make life as difficult as possible, to intimidate you, to make you have no rights,” said Menard.
In response to accusations of past eviction orders, Mazandarani notes that he was able to quickly resolve a dispute with a previous tenant. Mazandarani claims this resident owned a pitbull and that the animal had had a history of four attacks on humans. According to Mazandarani, the resident rid herself of the animal and was allowed to stay at the residence and Mazandarani dropped the eviction order.
Neighbors, including Carleton, tell a different tale, accusing Mazandarani of bribing long-term residents with money in order to leave, a claim Mazandarani denies.
David Arnold, the previous owner of the building at 2327 Prince St., says he has mixed feelings toward Menard.
"I found him to be a good tenant in that he paid his rent on time and kept his place neat, but found him very abrasive also," says Arnold.
Arnold claims that Mazandarani did pay Henderson to leave the building but that Henderson willingly agreed to take the money and leave.
The Superior Court denied Menard and his family a stay on the eviction, forcing them out by Monday.
The Menards managed to secure a new residence in downtown Oakland on Sunday.