Last year, tenant Katelin Danaher won little in a small-claims-court battle against her landlord, Isla Vista Owner LLC. This week, she won much bigger when Judge Thomas Anderle ruled emphatically in her favor after her landlord — one of the bigger in Isla Vista — countersued her for defamation in civil court. Anderle described Isla Vista Owner’s legal arguments against Danaher as “woefully deficient,” dismissing the “evidence” presented by the landlord’s attorney as “specious” and “fundamentally intellectually dishonest.” In sum, Anderle concluded, the “landlord’s lawsuit was retaliatory and based upon neither an honest appraisal of the facts nor a realistic consideration of the applicable law.”
Danaher rented space in a three-bedroom apartment owned by Isla Visa Owner at 6533 Nido Lane in June 2019 that rented for $10,000 a month. She’d been informed it held no more than 11 tenants; she, it turned out, was the 12th. Two lofts, it turns out, had been converted into illegal living spaces, as had the garage space. She complained that the accommodations were so crowded and noisy that her grades suffered.
When the landlord refused to return her security deposit, she filed complaints with the County Fire Department, county building department, District Attorney, and media. County building officials inspected and red-tagged the illegal lofts. Danaher sued Isla Vista Owner for $10,000 in small claims court and was awarded $2,000.
Independent intern Lily Hopwood wrote a news item at the time amplifying Danaher’s complaints. Although Isla Vista Owner claimed the article contained defamatory and factually inaccurate claims, no legal action against the Independent or Hopwood were ever filed, a fact Judge Anderle remarked upon more than once.
In the defamation case, a property manager testified that the owners had no idea the lofts had been converted into living space that were being rented out and that he was “shocked and appalled” by Danaher’s emails to building inspectors alleging a “criminal conspiracy and widespread code violations.” Judge Anderle dismissed this testimony, noting that the company’s own marketing materials indicated there were six to seven bedrooms, not just the three bedrooms acknowledged in the listing.
For the landlord to prevail in the defamation action, Anderle ruled, it would have to prove Danaher’s conduct was “vile, base, contemptible, miserable, wretched, or loathsome.” Despite testimony from two of Danaher’s former roommates challenging the truthfulness of her testimony and claims, Anderle noted that her allegations had resulted in both an enforcement action and a small-claims-court victory. Accordingly, he ruled Danaher must be awarded attorneys’ fees at a subsequent motion.