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ORANGE : Rent Strikers Win Initial Court Round

Tenants waging a rent strike at the Town and Country Apartments have won a preliminary victory in Superior Court.

On Wednesday, a judge denied the owners of the apartments a restraining order against the tenants’ attorneys.

The order would have prevented Elizabeth Martin of the nonprofit Fair Housing Council and Newport Beach attorney Richard Spix from holding the tenants’ rent in a trust until the strike is settled.

The dispute began in October, when 43 families in the 60-unit complex withheld their rent in an attempt to force owners Edda and Harvey Berger to make repairs the tenants said were needed.

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The tenants, all of whom are Latino, said the apartments at Shaffer Street and Katella Avenue were infested with mice and roaches and had leaking plumbing, broken windows and caved-in ceilings.

They contacted the housing council and asked the attorneys to hold $30,000 of their rent payments in trust.

Generally, landlords facing a rent strike begin eviction proceedings and the issues are decided in court, Martin said.

Instead, she received notice of the hearing for the restraining order.

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“What they are actually suing me for is to try to stop me from representing my clients,” Martin said. “I have no intention of doing that.”

Gerald Wolf, the Santa Ana attorney representing the Bergers, said he filed the action because he believed the rent money was going to pay attorney’s fees.

The landlords now are waiting for city inspectors to issue a report on conditions at the complex, Wolf said, adding that the tenants might be complaining about aesthetics rather than problems that would make the units uninhabitable.

But the report from city health and code inspectors, due next week, will largely support the tenants’ complaints, said John Godlewski, the city’s manager of community enhancement.

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“We are very concerned about the deteriorating housing stock up there,” he said.

Another hearing on the tenants’ legal representation is set for Dec. 1 before Superior Court Judge Nancy Wieben Stock.


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