Tenant, Notorious Landlord Go to Court after Claims of Black Mold, Rats, Illegal Rent Hikes, Eviction

A landlord notorious for letting his rental properties fall into dangerous disrepair is being accused of skirting San Jose’s new tenant protection laws.

Michael Lucich has tried to raise rents higher than the city’s 5 percent allowable yearly increase, as well as evict people without just cause, according to tenants at a San Jose apartment complex on Rexford Way.

One tenant, Katherine, who asked to withhold her given name for personal reasons, says Lucich has no right to kick her out because he failed to keep the 12-unit apartment up to code and legally habitable. Lucich repeatedly demanded higher rent payments while foregoing much-needed repairs and an intractable vermin infestation, she says.

San Jose passed a law in April that requires landlords to state one of a dozen approved reasons for terminating a lease agreement. Called the “just cause” ordinance, the law was meant to prevent baseless and retaliatory evictions. Katherine says the eviction notice she was recently received doesn’t pass legal muster.

Lucich denies the allegations.

She’s not a good housekeeper,” he says. “She doesn’t pick her garbage up, you know. But we fixed everything she needed and it’s time for her to relocate.”

An excerpt of Katherine's arbitration agreement.

An excerpt of Katherine's arbitration agreement.

However, city and court records show that Lucich has a longstanding pattern of keeping tenants in substandard living conditions. Litigation, citations, fines and media reports have done little to change the situation.

San Jose Inside initially reported on Lucich in 2015, when a lawsuit brought by a number of former tenants accused him of flouting fair housing laws. When we visited the property that year, the second-story walkway was so rot-weakened that it had to be closed off. Tenants had to be relocated during construction, and at least two were made homeless by the displacement. A judge ordered Lucich to foot the bill for their relocation costs.

Lucich, who lives in a multi-million dollar six-bedroom home in Los Gatos and runs an eponymous salon in Palo Alto with his wife, Sladana Lucich, bought the mid-century Rexford Way apartment in 1998, according to property records. Its current value is an estimated $2 million.

IMG_20170708_130932

A broken rainspout at 2125 Rexford Way. (Photo by Jennifer Wadsworth)

County records indicate that Lucich has made about $800,000 in improvements. But a quick glance around the courtyard reveals cracked windows, broken downspouts, a sagging walkway.

Inside the apartments, units appear to have the same problems that for years have been investigated by the city and county Housing Authority.

In the 19 years since Lucich bought the apartment complex, he has been cited and fined for egregious code enforcement violations—rats, mold, structural failures, leaking sewage, illegal construction and electrical failure, among others. For more than a decade, Lucich has managed to assuage the city and housing authority with perfunctory repairs. In an area that was patched up two years ago for water damage from leaking pipes, water droplets fall from overhead.

When Katherine moved into the tiny first-story apartment had new carpet and fresh paint. Though cockroaches scuttled over the floors and walls, she says, Lucich promised to take care of the infestation.

The exterminator never came, she says.

“Even on the day I moved in, there were a lot of roaches,” Katherine says with a shudder. “The first week, I couldn’t sleep because I thought if I slept the roaches would crawl all over my body.”

Katherine shows a cellphone video of a rodent skittering around her living room, darting into a pile of her son’s toys.

But her subsidized housing voucher covered the $1,445 monthly rent, so she kept her complaints to a minimum. Then, almost exactly a year ago, Katherine missed an appointment and lost her housing voucher, also referred to as Section 8.

A friend, Ly Huang, began paying her rent until she sorted out issues with her housing voucher. A month later, Lucich raised the rent to $1,550 with no notice, Huang says.

“When I was having Section 8, Mike was following the law,” Katherine says. “He didn’t raise the rent. … But as soon as I lost Section 8, he kept raising it, or kept trying to.”

In August, Lucich allegedly demanded another rent hike. But Huang, who owns another property and takes care of his aging parents, told the landlord that money was tight. Lucich accepted a check for $1,550, Huang says.

Meanwhile, Katherine says, the paint in the bathroom began to crack, peel and sprout with dark mold. The power would often go out. Moisture began to accumulate filth on the carpet, which Katherine says she couldn’t remove despite repeated shampooing.

Later that fall, according to Katherine and Huang, Lucich asked for $1,800—five times the legally allowable rent increase. That’s when Huang found out the apartment was subject to rent control. He says he confronted the landlord about his demands.

“When he said, ‘I’ll raise the rent,’ and I said no, he said, ‘then I’ll just evict you,’” Huang says. “Right in my face.”

Early this year, Lucich slid an undated 60-day eviction notice under Katherine’s door. A week later, Huang helped Katherine appeal to the city of San Jose.

Through the city’s Rental Rights and Referral Program, Katherine and Lucich reached an agreement. Katherine would leave by June 10 and Lucich would get rid of the rats, fix the wiring and replace the bathroom ceiling, which had blackened with a ring of mold.

Mold in the bathroom two months after Katherine's initial mediation hearing. (Photo by Ly Huang)

Mold in the bathroom two months after Katherine's initial mediation hearing. (Photo by Ly Huang)

Under the contract, Lucich would start repairs on Feb. 28. According to Huang, he was a no-show. The months passed and the problems with mold, rats, roaches and power outages continued. In April, Huang took photos of the mold proliferation in the bathroom and showed city officials. Lucich hired someone to scrape off the mold and apply fresh paint in the bathroom.

On June 1, Huang wrote the final check for $1,550 and delivered it to Lucich’s salon in Palo Alto. The landlord returned the check and had his lawyer issue a three-day, pay-or-quit notice. He reportedly offered to let them stay if they signed a new lease for $1,900 a month.

Katherine refused, and Lucich filed an unlawful detainer claim against her and Huang—even though her friend never lived with her.

Lucich tells San Jose Inside that he never once raised the rent on Katherine and that she has only herself to blame for the eviction. In his view, he says, a lot of his tenants cause their own problems.

“Usually the ones that are on subsidies are the problem,” Lucich says. “They move in extra people inside that don’t belong there. You sign a contract with one person and they bring two or three more people inside. We try to correct the situation, but they don’t like to hear that. Basically, it’s difficult because the tenants could be difficult.”

When asked about the repeated code enforcement violations for missing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors, Lucich again blames the tenants.

“The problem is this: they take the battery out,” Lucich says. “They cook in kitchens with so much grease, so they take the batteries out. They cook or smoke and don’t want to set it off, so they do that.”

Katherine never cooks in her unit because it’s unsafe, she says. There’s no grounding wire for the kitchen or the bathroom, Huang adds. The only smoke detector is in the bedroom—two rooms away from the kitchen.

When asked about the structural problems, such as the sagging walkway, shoddy stairs, holes in the walls and floors, Lucich again points to his tenants. Water damage that rotted out the walkway of the apartment, prompting city officials to red-tag one unit, was caused by a tenant, he says.

“He was pouring the water deliberately to the balcony … to create a bigger problem,” Lucich says. “He also had a pit bull, and I told him that can’t be there. But the balcony didn’t collapse—you’re using the wrong words. We had a balcony that needed repair because he poured gallons and gallons and gallons of water on it. He was about 260 pounds and would jump on the floor to break it. … He created a monster.”

Lucich also blames the black mold reportedly found in many units on tenants failing to open their windows.

“Sometimes they exaggerate about how bad it is,” he says. “Most of the time they don’t open the windows. Of course you close it when it’s cold, but if you don’t open it enough, the moisture builds up and creates mold. In my house, we try to open the windows in the bathroom to air it out.”

Lucich confirmed that he makes roughly $250,000 a year in rent revenue from the Rexford Way property. He says he spends about 15 percent on overhead—insurance, taxes, gardening, maintenance. The constant repairs make it a tough gig, he says.

“I’m a businessman,” he says. “I know sometimes you have to deal with these things.”

On Thursday, Katherine will appeal her eviction order in court.

“I don’t want anyone else to live like this,” she says. “I’m hopeful.”

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to jenniferw@metronews.com or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

29 Comments

  1. There are at least three (3) problems here.

    Slum landlords should face swift and severe punishments designed to deter this conduct.

    All “Section 8″ type vouchers should be immediately eliminated. No government subsidies should exist to live in the Bay Area and surrounding jurisdictions where the person(s) cannot support themselves.

    Eliminate the “Rent Control Ordinances”-the communist based ideologies that spawn subsidies and entitlements.

    David S. Wall

    • Wow that’s not very nice. I work with senior citizens who receive Section 8 subsidy. Without affordable housing a lot of them would be homeless. Social Security payments are often not enough to live off of.

      • Not very nice? I thought at one point I should rent to a section 8 family and did. Boy was I sorry, after they almost burned the place down (on a new stove by the way) let the water run and destroyed the carpet and paint (also new when they moved in) the people I rented to, rented out each room including the garage to other families getting more than I did for the rental. Trying to check people out, what a laugh, and the prior landlord couldn’t bad mouth em. So three thousand later (to buy them out) and a threat by ICE, to take care of the kids they left after being deported to Mexico, wala, no more section 8.

      • Social Security was NEVER intended by the government to be the sole source of retirement income. The people who have contributed the least to it because they have had little income are those who whine the loudest that they cannot live on it. I know many folks who have solved the problem of insufficient retirement income to live in the Bay Area. They move to a location they can afford. Social Security payments remain the same wherever one lives.

    • Hi David,
      When we stop subsidies for Congress, Banks, and Elates like yourself,
      Us the working poor, won’t need subsidies .

  2. Mr. Wall was once escorted out of the new San Jose City Hall Chambers for dumping a bunch of trash and dirt on the floor in front of City Council members because he was angry about something.

    • You have made a libelous and slander per se statement.

      I have never been escourted out of city hall, I have never dumped trash and dirt on the floor in front of City Council members.

      I have not been “angry” with any Councilmember.

      David S. Wall

      • I agree, it wasn’t you. It was the guy who spoke “on behalf of the people” and I was sitting 3 seats down from him wondering what was leaking out of the bag. Nice to hear it was “toxic residue” as he made his way past me.

      • Wow, it’s nice to know you guys and girls read what’s put up. I’m impressed. So do the potholes in the roads bother you? The fact your getting more taxes from homeowners to take care of the homeless and welfare receipiants bother you? Doing less for more money, bothers me.

      • In this state you’re guilty until proven innocent so before any retraction or apology, prove the statement is false, or is it laws don’t apply to you.

    • The only subsidies around here are in Sammys pocket. I watched him and Constant and Nguyen and Reed vote themselves a pay raise as freshmen politicians. And than destroy the police department. Yeh, we can count on them to protect the downtrodden.

  3. Mr Lucich has a long history of blaming everything on his tenants. And he does not actually make real repairs. Part of the problem is that the City does not require repairs to existing building be done by licensed professionals. Electrical, plumbing, and structural “repairs” are done by the lowest priced amateur and are cosmetic only, thus posing a danger to tenants.
    Black mold cannot be painted over or scraped off. It must be treated chemically by professionals. It keeps reappearing because Lucich does not really fix the problem. I have a history going back15 years helping his tenants to the City’s Rental Rights & Referrals, Code Enforcement, and Silicon Valley Law Foundation. He evicts tenants who complain to authorities (which was lawful until May 10 this year) but in the last case he had to payout a health amount of money to the tenants in the article above who took him to court. However, he remains in business and his building continues to deteriorate, he continues to lie to new tenants who are desperate for housing. The Issue here is the irresponsibility of Lucich and the impotence of the City when it comes to stopping slumlords like him.

    • “Black mold cannot be painted over or scraped off. It must be treated chemically by professionals. It keeps reappearing because Lucich does not really fix the problem.”

      If I had to deal with a plague that was both unsightly and detrimental to my property I’d much rather it be black mold than professional parasites of the Section 8 persuasion. Of the two, only black mold has yet to be immunized and granted protected status by the stupid government.

    • WOW! The city that bans plastic bags, requires payment of a so-called living wage, that hates happy meals, that continues to add bike lanes for the 1% of people who bike ride to work or school, leaving the 99% in ever growing traffic jams, hates Happy Meals and sugar, pour tens of millions into NGOs who haven’t put a dent in homelessness…doesn’t require licensed professionals to perform repairs? One thing is clear–those city employees charged with enforcing housing codes and shutting down slumlords are failing miserably.

    • We were asked to move right away.we left it messy.cat liter on the floor the stove was greasey…they blamed me for it being messy.we didn’t get our deposit back.my mom passed away.the houseing paid for 2 weeks to get her stuff out.mr lucich let me move my mom’s stuff out.my mom had dead Roaches in the freezer.they hid behind pictures on the wall like 10 or 15 of them behind pictures she slept with the lights on.or they crawl on you..rip mom.another lady died there too.melisa 2005.and the older lady down the hall so sad.

    • 2008 sweede the handyman passed away.that worked for Mr lucich.sweede would do repairs and marcos.back when.we moved 2005 to park Ave apts for same price has a pool.mr lucich would tell me about sweede he had a big ding aling.tmi I don’t find Mr lucich handsome or sweede he wreeked of vodka.

    • The city’s fault should red tag his apt as unfit to live in and demolish the apt.instead of pay outs to people.

  4. Wow a lot of hostility towards your customers. It appears that those who want to get rid of section 8 housing simply have no respect for the customers at all. Use your Ellis act rights and sell your properties in San Jose. There will be a better business person that will replace you.

    • Hostility?? Read my reply already on here, on just one section 8 renter, I had others, actually all of the others had to be evicted, so I WILL NOT, rent to any more section eight, period. When it’s do unto others as they would do unto you, I might (probably not) reconsider. I love die hard liberals, who don’t own property.

  5. Slum lords should have to live in the Slum apartment/home until everything is fixed …. and the slumie place he/she is living in must be the last to be fixed.

    • i find it appalling that anyone would side with this piece of filth and blame Section 8 recipients. They’re subject to the same rules as any tenant (actually more). As a landlord you have a duty to ensure tenants don’t damage the property and evict them if they do so. You also have a duty to make necessary repairs. This type of despicable people preys on the weakest, most defenseless members of our community. I hope anybody walking past their crappy salon steps in to let the customers know they’re patronizing a slumlord.

      • Short of camping out in each tenant’s house, how do you propose a landlord can ensure tenants don’t damage the property?

  6. I would wager that with a majority of these Section 8 tenants, you could give them a brand new house or apartment and within a couple of years they’d have it in prime “slum lord” condition. THEN who’s the slum lord? Hmmm?

  7. Thanks John, because that’s what all my tenants have done. This after, new carpet, relow beige paint, redo the bathroom and usually a new stove. And then they have the nerve to want their deposit back. Then the only one that likes me, is S&G carpet and Western Appliance. Then do the same thing for the next renter. Why? Because I have to make it liveable.

  8. Its the human quality have degraded so much by “Morally Deficient, Virtuously Inefficiently” people, regardless of their housing status. We all have many roles in life time, when human relations are based on $$$ and lack of conscience, external roles and economic status are NOT basis to define their quality. They are so much hate, hostility, coldness, sedative attitude when one side is not satisfied. They are acted as GOD to do their bidding and paid HIGH PRICE when they die.

  9. > Tenant, Notorious Landlord Go to Court after Claims of Black Mold, Rats, Illegal Rent Hikes, Eviction

    Speaking of notoriety, rats, illegality, and moldy black-hearted slimy things, could SJI give us some updated dish on the local Democratic Central Committee and the recent episode of “accidental revenge porn” that was reported to have involved DCC officials.

    I would have posted this query on the relevant SJI page, but it seems that posting has been disabled:

    http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2016/07/06/democrats-in-santa-clara-county-wrestle-with-harassment-claims/

    > Democrats in Santa Clara County Wrestle with Harassment Claims
    > By The Fly / July 6, 2016

    A local failing newspaper has reported that certain SJI celebrities may have engaged in snarkiness, or worse, over the episode.

    The truth will set you free.

  10. Mr lucich needs to rebuild new apts instead of trying to cover it like a bandaid.make the rent affordable.limit family size.most landlords don’t care anymore.if you got first and last months cash rent your legal or not it doesnt matter if you can’t speek english.nobody called the cops.they don’t want to get deported.my friend Melissa swan 2005 passed away there.she passed out once.the tentants closed the curtains..I saved her life once.my husband said she would hide in the bushes ask for money for sex.mr lucich acted like it wasn’t his business…I have noticed the landlords now days rent to anyone.people hide inside.they are young families put there money together like 5 families in a one bedroom apt.to afford the rents here.nobody can afford to live alone.not everybody has houseing or SSI disability checks so we’re stuck in bad relationships..better than being homeless.

Leave a Reply