A Berkeley property company that has refused to return the security deposits of a number of former tenants agreed Wednesday to make some reparation.
Cleo and Eula Lekas, the mother and daughter behind Lekas & Associates, agreed to pay Alyson Sato $2,487 by Jan. 31, according to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The two sides reached the agreement after a two-hour, closed-door meeting in front of a judge in an Alameda County courtroom.
The resolution, if carried out, would end a 19-month-old fight over the return of Sato’s security deposit, a disagreement that made its way into small claims court, prompted a protest outside a meeting of the Berkeley Property Owners’ Association, led to a demonstration in front of the Lekas’ home in Oakland, and led the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to issue a bench warrant for the arrest of Cleo Lekas.
“The landlord has now agreed to pay Alyson by January 31 and she has signed a document, witnessed by the judge, that the check will be in the mail and received by Jan. 31st,” said Worthington.
Eula Lekas also told Graeme Baldwin, another disgruntled former tenant, that she would meet with him today, checkbook in hand, to discuss his security deposit, which has not been returned, said Worthington.
Sato’s dispute began in July 2010 after she moved out of the apartment she had occupied at 1717 Euclid Street in Berkeley. The apartment was left in good condition and Sato heard that her $2,300 deposit would be returned to her. Sato never received the money despite numerous phone calls and emails and unsuccessful attempts to send Lekas & Associates certified letters.
A judge in small claims court finally ruled in January 2011 that Lekas & Associates must pay Sato $4,661 – twice the security deposit plus court fees – but the money never arrived. Finally, a judge issued a bench warrant in December against Cleo Lekas, which compelled her to show up in court on Wednesday.
Sato turned to Worthington’s office for help and an investigation revealed that at least seven of the Lekas’ 20 tenants in two different buildings had not gotten their security deposits back.
“Out of 20 units, to have seven different people not get their deposits back is a pretty high percentage,” said Worthington. “That makes it seem it’s not just accidental. It’s a pattern. That makes it more egregious.”
Eula Lekas declined to discuss the case on Wednesday.
“This is not a story,” she said while sitting in court. “Kris Worthington knows it’s not a story. I have no comment.”