Berkeley homeowner facing major icon repair debts gets a new day in court

Leonard Powell in front of Harmon Street in 1911 Photo: Friends of Adeline

June 22 update Court actions to terminate receivership status for Leonard Powell’s home at 1911 Harmon Street continued through the fall, according to attorneys involved in the case.

A hearing held on May 20 in the Alameda County Superior Court did not reach any decision or result in a judge’s ruling in the case, and several previous hearings have not taken place over the past two years.

“The case has not been resolved. “Maintain the trial date and/or all other future dates,” the court document said at the May hearing.

The court discussed the October hearing, but its date has not yet been confirmed.

The court is trying to end receivership on Powell’s house, which is called “release of receiver”. Powell’s home was placed into receivership by court order in 2017, after failing to fix several violations of the city’s health and safety law over a few years.

Powell, 80, has owned the home for nearly 50 years.

Under receiver, Gerald Kenna, the two-storey Victorian was overhauled and renovated, including returning it to its original legal status as a duplex, which is what the city required. The work included cosmetic upgrades such as the marble countertops.

Powell, who raised six children at home, converted it into a single-family home, without obtaining the required permits to operate. He has lived in the house since 2020, with court and city permission to return, and is renting the second unit.

Defying an end to receivership, Powell claims, through his free legal team, that Keena went beyond the scope of work necessary in fixing code violations, which ended up costing the homeowner about $700,000 in construction and custody expenses, such as legal work. The receiver also asks the court to agree to an additional fee of about $290,000.

Powell’s attorneys also allege that the city violated the law in its handling of the administration’s violations of the law and the direction of the recipient.

The receiver claims he did it all by the book on complex and expensive property, as proven by court-required approvals for his spending decisions along the way.

The receivership accounting must obtain periodic court approval during the process.

The judge who has overseen the case for the past few years, Jeffrey Brand, has already ruled that the court’s prior accounting and approvals work is in place, and will not be reconsidered. But he also said the court could hear evidence of Powell’s allegations of mismanagement of the case (by the receiver or the city) if it was new and different from the evidence presented in previous rulings.

The brand has also ruled that pending recipient fee claims will be handled separately from the previous issues.

Original post, April 21 After eight years of what few would argue was a case of homeowners’ tense limbo, the case of a South Berkeley home that has been in receivership since 2017 is back in court with the goal of ending the legal system’s control of the property.

In a series of Alameda County Courthouse hearings scheduled for the next two months, the judge is expected to decide several outstanding cases over court-ordered receivership at 1911 Harmon Street, the 80-year old home of Leonard Powell.

The new hearings will review the scope and costs of repair work and whether the project was mismanaged by the recipient or the city, according to an interim ruling issued Wednesday by Judge Jeffrey Brand, who has presided over the case since 2018.

Powell’s attorneys allege mishandling of receivership, which cost Powell nearly $700,000: $500,000 for renewals and $200,000 for receivership and legal fees.

Also on the table is a $290,000 outstanding bill from Gerard Kenna, the court-appointed house keeper, for administrative and legal fees.

“This guard has greatly affected my family and I,” Powell said recently through his attorney. “I am 80 years old. It is heart-wrenching and exhausting that I still go through this ordeal. … I simply hope for a just and speedy end to this receivership so that my family and I can move on with our lives.”

Powell, a veteran and retired American postal worker, owned the two-story Victorian for 48 years, raising his six children there. Today, he lives in one of the two newly reconstructed home units and rents the other.

The home entered receivership by court order in 2017, at the request of the City of Berkeley because the home had several health and safety law violations that Powell hadn’t fixed, even after taking out a $100,000 interest-free loan. The city said it had worked with Powell to fix the problems for years, but deadlines were not met, and projects were not completed.

A receivership is a mechanism that cities and counties can use to deal with property that has building code challenges that potentially endangers the safety of residents or the community. It is often considered a root or last option for “problem” properties with absent or irresponsible owners, or owners who, for whatever reason, simply cannot find a way to fix their homes.

A property custodian who is appointed by the court is essentially given statutory authority over all matters relating to the property to bring it into compliance with building code. Recipients are required to brief the court with progress reports and accounting.

The receivership is legally terminated by the courts when the code issues are resolved – called liberation of the recipient. This usually happens when the property owner, the jurisdiction (such as the city), and the recipient reach an agreement that is approved by the court.

Keena ordered extensive repairs to 1911 Harmon Street including a new foundation, granite countertops, stainless steel kitchen appliances, and new plumbing and electrical work. The house also had to be converted into a duplex. Powell at one point converted the house into a single-family home but did so without a permit.

Disagreements between Powell, the receiver and the city over the legalities and fairness of the case persist, took time to resolve, and much is still in the air.

How did a large person end up in debts of hundreds of thousands of dollars?

The operation’s price tag of nearly $700,000, about a third of which is a receivership-type administrative fee, has prompted many who follow the situation to wonder how he ended up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt to try and hold on to his lover if she deteriorates. , old house.

Powell largely blames the city for its handling of his situation.

These are some of the issues, which Judge Brand will try to resolve in upcoming hearings.

In 2019, Brand partially emptied the receiver when Powell returned to his restored home. But Powell refused to sign Kenna’s full release. In court documents, he said he had questions about the honesty and accuracy of the receiver’s actions.

Meanwhile, Keena said he wouldn’t be charged for a significant portion of his personal time on the case if the recipient was released at that time – which he hasn’t. The $290,000 owed includes this, plus receivership fees over the past three years, mainly for legal costs.

New team of lawyers question aspects of Powell’s treatment

In 2020, a new team of lawyers took over to represent Powell, from the San Francisco law firm of Gibson Dunn. Andre Giulvo, lead attorney on the team, said the work was free.

The team made summaries questioning many aspects of the Powell transaction, including the legitimacy of the city’s law enforcement process, the recipient’s expense, the scope of work performed, and the city’s responsibility to help pay for receivership costs.

The trademark provisional ruling covered most of these issues. The ruling was emailed to all the lawyers, essentially saying, Here is my reasoning and reasoning; Now you have a chance to convince the court otherwise if you do not agree.

While the trademark wasn’t final, it did rest on a few key points, including saying that previous court orders stand and cannot be reconsidered. This includes court approvals of work and costs that were required while the project was in progress.

But he also said that the extent to which the builder and receiver were compensated could be reviewed against existing standards and regulations, given the mismanagement.

The judge also agreed in principle with a motion by Berkeley that it could not be held liable for paying the costs of the receiver. But he also said that if the city or receiver orders or orders work beyond what is legally required, they can be liable for compensation.

Brand also suggested processing the recipients’ owed $290,000 bills after reviewing the business project.

The first hearing in the case is on Friday. Two additional sessions are scheduled for May 13 and May 27.

Kane and his attorney, Nathaniel Marston, have not commented on the case.

The Berkeley city attorney’s office also said they do not comment on cases in the litigation.

Powell’s attorney said he believes the receivership system failed his client at many points, and his home could have been made code compliant for much less money.

1911 Harmon Street House after being extensively rebuilt. credit: Kate Rauch

The case of Leonard Powell stirred up strong emotions in Berkeley and beyond, as an elderly African American homeowner long ago faced having to sell his home or incur hundreds of thousands of debts to cover an entire renovation.

The recipient asserts that he was following the scope of work offered by the city; A document that the city claims it did not issue, but is nonetheless included in the city documents with an “approved” signature initialed by the city planner.

In previous Berkleeside reports. Powell did not argue that the house had not fallen into disrepair. He said he was confused by the process of fixing the city code and took steps to get the work done.

In addition to obtaining a Veterans Affairs loan and receiving donations and assistance from the family, Powell was granted a $100,000 interest-free loan from the city’s Home Renovation Program for Seniors and Disabled, which does not need to be repaid until his death, or the home sale, whichever comes first.

But the Berkeley City Council has asked city employees to look more into what happened with Powell’s case, including how this type of situation might be prevented in the future.

Cities must legally enforce building codes, a process usually driven by complaint. Someone is complaining about a building and the city is checking out. But receivership seems rare for the city.

Berkeleyside sent a public records request to the city on February 2 requesting all documents relating to the city’s 50-year use of receivership, and has yet to receive anything.

In 2020, the council unanimously approved a set of recommendations for employees, including that the city manager hold a briefing for the council on how to deal with residence law enforcement issues, timeframe and compliance mechanisms, assistance programs for homeowners with code issues, and lessons The specifics learned from the Powell case. The council also requested information about the number of complaints and violations related to the law, and the number of complaints that went to receivership. I also asked the city manager to help plan a public meeting on the subject.

“This referral occurred in February 2020, a month before the shutdown,” Maathai Cheko, a city spokesperson, said this week. “This project has been suspended to prioritize pandemic response.”

A Bay Area native, Kate Rauch has contributed to Berkeleyside for nearly 10 years, and to the press for several more years, with a few other interesting gigs along the way.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: