Update: The story has been updated to reflect German Maldonado’s bankruptcy filings.
The property manager who was accused of stealing his tenants’ rent last summer has been found guilty and must pay a total of $780,000 to his nine former tenants for negligence, emotional distress, and loss of rent, among other charges.
German Maldonado “has caused a lot of harm, and he works, so we will do what we can to recover for the harm he caused,” wrote Mark Hooshmand, the lawyer for the group of tenants who sued the property manager last year. All nine tenants will be awarded monetary damages ranging from $67,661 to $110,647 for economic and emotional harm.
Lawyers for the tenants said that Maldonado has declared bankruptcy, however, making it more difficult to retrieve the payments owed to their clients.
“The first step we would need to take is to ensure that the debt he owes to our clients is not discharged,” said Jenny Jin, an associate attorney for the tenants. “Then we will look at the next step of enforcement.”
Maldonado declared bankruptcy shortly before the trial in August. Hooshmand and Jin must now initiate proceedings in bankruptcy court and argue that Maldonado should not be able to erase the $780,000 owed to their clients. Jin said there’s general precedent for certain kinds of debt being excused from bankruptcy filings, like student loans or damages owed for fraudulent actions, and the tenants’ lawyers will argue that Maldonado’s actions fall into the latter category.
As to how long recuperation would take, Jin was not sure. “It won’t be a short process,” she said, though she hoped it would not take more than a decade. In the event that damages are recovered, legal costs will be 30-40 percent of the total.
Tenants alleged that they suffered years of abuse and neglect, culminating in the loss of their below-market-rate units due to eviction last summer.
The former property manager of four units at 3150-3154 26th Street and a tenant of the building himself, Maldonado faced protests and subsequent legal action after tenants received eviction notices for failure to pay rent to their landlord, Thomas Aquilina. Maldonado generally transferred rental payments to Aquilina on the tenants’ behalf, and the nine tenants accused Maldonado of stealing some $41,000 in rental payments and failing to pass it on as required.
At his trial in August Maldonado admitted that he took their rent and gave it to other tenants — who were not part of the proceedings — saying he wanted to help these tenants find a new place to live after they received eviction notices. All tenants were eventually evicted from the building or were bought out by the landlord, except for Maldonado, who settled with the landlord in a separate suit and remains in his unit. (The nine tenants also settled with the landlord Aquilina for an undisclosed amount earlier this year.)
The tenants involved in the suit, however, said that not only had Maldonado’s rent theft caused their evictions, but that he had subjected them to years of distress, letting their units fall into disrepair, entering their units illegally, and sometimes threatening violence.
“He came up and he threatened me in front of my children. That’s when my children started being afraid of him” said Mayra Alvarado during the trial. She was one of several tenants who testified to Maldonado’s verbal harassment and his exploitation of the tenants’ dependence on living in below-market-rate units in San Francisco.
The testimony that emerged at trial moved Judge Richard B. Ulmer to write that the “squalid” conditions and safety violations amounted to a “death trap” in the apartment. Tenants often lived four to a room amidst leaky pipes, mice-infested ovens, broken smoke detectors, blocked fire exits, and exposed electrical outlets — paying up to $800 for a room, still below market-rate but more than the conditions warranted, the judge said.
“They could afford nothing better in America’s most expensive rental market,” he wrote at the time.