The eviction trial for Shantel McClendon, a mother of five and resident of Valencia Gardens, is slated to conclude Wednesday, but any decision will not become before August, according to the lawyers involved in the case.
McClendon’s housing status will remain in limbo as attorneys prepare briefs and the judge, Richard Ulmer, comes to a decision. He will either decide whether McClendon has the right to stay in her home, or he will send the proceedings to a jury trial – a step that would mean a further delay.
The trial is only the latest eviction proceeding initiated by The John Stewart Company, the property manager of Valencia Gardens, against McClendon, who has been served with seven eviction notices and three eviction lawsuits since late 2017. As Mission Local previously reported, McClendon has said she feels targeted and harassed by the repeated actions.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Ulmer repeatedly criticized the arguments made by attorneys for The John Stewart Company, the property management outfit that operates Valencia Gardens and has sued to evict McClendon. The judge later said, however, that his critical comments from the bench did not mean he was stating an opinion and that the lawyers may yet be surprised at the way he rules.
At issue in the case is Rasheed Loveless, the father of three of McClendon’s children. Valencia Gardens’ property management alleged Loveless stayed at McClendon’s apartment overnight for more than 14 days, a violation of the complex’s rules. Loveless is no longer staying in the apartment, however, as he is serving a two-year sentence in state prison.
“The jury’s gonna wonder why we’re here: ‘He can’t be in the apartment; he’s in state prison,’” said Ulmer, referring to the possibility that he may send the proceedings to a jury trial.
Later Tuesday morning, Valencia Gardens property manager Carlos Uribe testified that McClendon had unreported income during 2017 and 2018 that would have mandated her rent be raised if it had been properly reported. However, he said he only discovered this during an income verification that management ran last Friday, after the first day of the trial. Ulmer wondered at the timing of the verification, noting that management had received an earlier report of a discrepancy in McClendon’s income in September 2017 but never ran another verification before the trial began.
“If you knew it was a problem, why did you wait more than 20 months?” he asked Uribe. “Why did you do it after trial started?”
After asking different versions of the question several times and going back and forth with Uribe without progress, Ulmer decided to move on.
One of the legal arguments Ulmer’s decision will turn on is a concept called waiver, when someone forfeits a right by failing to exercise it. For example, in this case, Uribe testified that he first became aware that Loveless was staying overnight at the property in mid-to-late 2016. McClendon’s lawyer, Ryan Murphy of the Eviction Defense Collaborative, tried to prove that Uribe was only now exercising his right to enforce the 14-day rule after looking the other way and not enforcing it for long periods of time while still collecting rent.
“The biggest waiver issue is that you’ve known about Loveless for three years,” said Ulmer. “To me, that’s the starkest one because it’s lasted the longest and it’s the clearest.” He asked rhetorically whether someone staying overnight improperly for 30 years while the landlord looked the other way could then suddenly be evicted.
Ulmer said he looked forward to reading The John Stewart Company’s legal reasoning on the issue, but added, “I’ve got my doubts about it, I have to tell you.”
Ulmer scolded both sides about another issue in the case: McClendon’s back rent payment, which resolved the first eviction notice she received from The John Stewart Company.
In 2018, McClendon sought assistance from Hamilton Families, an organization that works to prevent homelessness, to pay $3,400 in back rent. However, Uribe said that management had other ongoing issues with her tenancy at the time the payment was made. He said if Hamilton Families had known of the other issues, they would not have paid McClendon’s back rent because it would have done little to ultimately keep the family in their home.
Ulmer took issue with neither McClendon nor The John Stewart Company informing Hamilton Families of the other issues, which both sides were aware of. “One party or both parties pulled the wool over Hamilton Families,” he said.
Once Hamilton Families made the payment, The John Stewart Company served another eviction notice to McClendon the same week. Ulmer noted management’s timing seemed suspicious.
“The Hamilton Families check gets cashed on Monday, an eviction notice comes on Friday without any apparent communication,” said the judge. “Okay, we got the money, now, bam.”