Monday, February 9, 2009

Big Brother is Watching in East Palo Alto: Police Record Call Between Tenant and Landlord

Chris Lund may be a thorn in the side of Page Mill Properties, but you've got to hand it to the guy: he's having an impact. Lund appears to be part pit-bull. He's clenched his teeth on this predatory landlord and isn't letting go. Page Mill has apparently decided that the best defense is a good offense. The company is smearing Lund in an obvious attempt to discredit one of their main opponents in this ongoing affordable housing battle in East Palo Alto.

According to a recent article, Page Mill now accuses Lund of "extortion." You've got to read this one to believe it. According to Page Mill, Lund -- a tenant of Page Mill who has refused to quietly give up while Page Mill eliminates affordable rental housing in EPA -- "tried to extort $20,000 from them in exchange for agreeing to vacate his unit and solve the company's problems with community groups and unflattering media coverage."

Page Mill's bizarre conduct is not a surprise at this point. It has become clear that the company will do just about anything to vacate its units of low-rent, rent-controlled tenants.

What is shocking, however, is the latest turn in this story. The Palo Alto police department -- yes, the same department whose chief had to resign after proudly admitting to racial profiling -- "investigated" Page Mill's extortion claim, and as part of its investigation tape recorded a call between a Page Mill representative and Lund.

There are many details that need to be sorted out. I don't buy for a minute that Page Mill is the victim of an extortion plot. But even if, and it's a huge if, Page Mill's accusation were true, where's the extortion? Page Mill wants Lund out of his apartment. According to Lund, they offered to buy him off, an offer Lund claims he turned down. According to Page Mill, Lund demanded payment to move (which Lund denies). Either way, where's the criminal extortion?

Actually, willful violation of the East Palo Alto Rent Stabilization Ordinance is a criminal offense. So, for example, if Page Mill tried to get Lund to leave without a proper notice stating cause for eviction under the ordinance, or if Page Mill has conducted a campaign of harassment and smears designed to drive Lund out, it would be Page Mill whose conduct could rise to the level of a criminal violation. Page Mill is accused of numerous other violations of the Ordinance, such as illegal utility charges and excessive rent increases. Will the Palo Alto police department be investigating these allegations and tape recording Page Mill employees?

Lund is also apparently accused by Page Mill of offering to stop the negative media campaign against Page Mill as part of this "extortion" plot. Nonsense. Lund has every right to raise hell in the media as he has been doing, so long as he's telling the truth or stating his opinion. Likewise, Lund has every right to stop raising hell if Page Mill engages in conduct he finds acceptable. Again, where's the extortion?

According to the article, the District Attorney had the good sense not to file charges against Lund. Nonetheless, the situation should set off alarm bells for those concerned with tenant rights and civil liberties. What is a police department doing tape recording an activist's call with his landlord under these circumstances?


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  3. Page Mill's behavior has been atrocious. Apparently they will stop at nothing! It's all about their bottom line. They bought high and tried to flip the property but the economic downturn worked against what do they do? Take it out on the renters! Your granny would be ashamed of you, Mr. Taran.

  4. I am curious as to the legality of the police taping the conversation. Aren't people required to inform you when they are taping a call? Regardless of who it is?

  5. More recent coverage on this at the following link: