by Lynda Carson
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ealthy Oakland landlord Richard Thomas of Environment and Land Management, Inc., was whacked in the courts on Feb. 16, 2011, when a state appeals court upheld more than $3 million in punitive damages and attorney’s fees after a jury found that he had cheated about 200 tenants out of their security deposits, in an extended history of illegality from 1999 through 2007.
The jury found that Thomas cheated the tenants out of their security deposits by fabricating false claims of property damage in his apartments. Thomas owns around 150 rental units in Alameda County, and most of the 186 or more class members involved in the lawsuit reside in properties that are located in Oakland.
Thomas’ business records revealed that he overcharged his tenants by making false claims for hundreds of thousands of dollars from tenants’ security deposits, while spending less than half of that amount on claimed repairs.
The suit against Thomas began in 2003, and it has been an eight-year struggle to seek justice in the courts and expose the alleged dirty tricks of a landlord ripping off the security deposits of vulnerable tenants.
Tenant’s attorney Aram Antaramian of Berkeley said; “Richard Thomas is still a large landowner, and there should be some monitoring of his activities. I hope he changes his way from the past, and only time will tell. There has been a lot of work involved in going after Thomas for ripping off people’s security deposits, and going after him was very difficult.”
The multimillionaire landlord has a long, contentious history not only with his tenants, but with judges, the court system and even his own attorneys. In 2004, Thomas was designated as a “vexatious litigant” by Alameda County Judge Leo Dorado because of the landlord’s history of repeatedly suing his own lawyers, and was publicly labeled as “malicious and despicable” by another judge.
In 2000, the organization Just Cause Oakland kicked off its anti-eviction ordinance campaign with a protest of tenants and activists in front of one of Thomas’ buildings near 6th Avenue, and E. 19th Street, in Oakland, because Thomas was evicting tenants to jack up the rents.
In 2004, Alameda County Superior Court awarded the City of Oakland $70,000 in sanctions against landlord Thomas for his two years of non-compliance with an agreement to monitor his rental activities, while allegedly violating Oakland’s rent laws.
Additionally, in 2004 and 2005, more protests were organized by the Campaign for Renters Rights against Thomas for scamming tenants out of security deposits and countersuing tenants because they filed claims in small claims court to get their deposits back. Judge Dorado claimed Thomas was a “vexatious litigant” for his excessive activities in the courts.
Thomas’ property management company Environment and Land Management Inc., is located at 3300 Kempton Avenue in Oakland. Thomas is expected to appeal the latest ruling against him, and was not available for comment.
Lynda Carson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.