Berkeley property company in court over deposits

A protest at the Lekas' home in Oakland. L to R: Ruby Sato, Kriss Worthington, Jesse Arreguín, Jerome Gourdine, Alyson Sato

A Berkeley property company that has refused to return the security deposits of a number of former tenants agreed Wednesday to make some reparation.

Cleo and Eula Lekas, the mother and daughter behind Lekas & Associates, agreed to pay Alyson Sato $2,487 by Jan. 31, according to City Councilmember Kriss Worthington. The two sides reached the agreement after a two-hour, closed-door meeting in front of a judge in an Alameda County courtroom.

The resolution, if carried out, would end a 19-month-old fight over the return of Sato’s security deposit, a disagreement that made its way into small claims court, prompted a protest outside a meeting of the Berkeley Property Owners’ Association, led to a demonstration in front of the Lekas’ home in Oakland, and led the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to issue a bench warrant for the arrest of Cleo Lekas.

“The landlord has now agreed to pay Alyson by January 31 and she has signed a document, witnessed by the judge, that the check will be in the mail and received by Jan. 31st,” said Worthington.

Eula Lekas also told Graeme Baldwin, another disgruntled former tenant, that she would meet with him today, checkbook in hand, to discuss his security deposit, which has not been returned, said Worthington.

Sato’s dispute began in July 2010 after she moved out of the apartment she had occupied at 1717 Euclid Street in Berkeley. The apartment was left in good condition and Sato heard that her $2,300 deposit would be returned to her. Sato never received the money despite numerous phone calls and emails and unsuccessful attempts to send Lekas & Associates certified letters.

A judge in small claims court finally ruled in January 2011 that Lekas & Associates must pay Sato $4,661 – twice the security deposit plus court fees – but the money never arrived. Finally, a judge issued a bench warrant in December against Cleo Lekas, which compelled her to show up in court on Wednesday.

Sato turned to Worthington’s office for help and an investigation revealed that at least seven of the Lekas’ 20 tenants in two different buildings had not gotten their security deposits back.

“Out of 20 units, to have seven different people not get their deposits back is a pretty high percentage,” said Worthington. “That makes it seem it’s not just accidental. It’s a pattern. That makes it more egregious.”

Eula Lekas declined to discuss the case on Wednesday.

“This is not a story,” she said while sitting in court. “Kris Worthington knows it’s not a story. I have no comment.”

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  • Hilly

    Disgusting. Talk about a predatory landlord. I’m glad Sato will get her money back (hopefully).

  • Completely Serious

    Wow!  Kriss did something for someone who live(d) in his district.

    But don’t think for a minute the settlement with a judge, behind closed doors, had anything to do with Kriss’ involvement.

  • Bruce Love

    C.S., you make a remarkable claim:  “But don’t think for a minute the settlement with a judge, behind closed doors, had anything to do with Kriss’ involvement.”

    Why not?   The evidence reported in this and earlier stories says otherwise.    Should we believe all the reporting on this issue is wrong?

  • Suet

    You are being particularly snotty tonight.  Have a bad day did you?

  • Completely Serious

    The article seems to report what Kriss said, but it does not say he participated in the closed door meeting with the judge.  What evidence is there that the judge was influenced by Kriss?

  • Bruce Love

    I wouldn’t necessarily expect a councilmember  to be in such a meeting “influencing the judge” — is that really what you would expect?  Via Worthington’s office the plaintiff got help from the city documenting a persistent pattern.  Additionally pols Worthington et al. helped to create the public exposure and perhaps some peer pressure via the landlord’s assoc.   Lekas is also apparently now to settle with Baldin, as well.   The clear picture is that Worthington and the other pols did support Sato’s litigation effort and did help box these landlords into a settling.

  • Anonymous

    HaHa…Landlords can be so forgiving sometimes.

  • TA001

    I used to work for Eula Lekas at her apartments and I never seen her give anybody back there deposits the entire time I worked there.She would look for any little thing to charge them for so she would not have to.She also will never return any calls unless its a new renter.She treats her workers very badly over worked, no overtime, doesnt want to pay you.She is dishonest and just really not a good person to rent or work for.She doesnt care about these tenants at all and has no clue how hard it is for people to take a loss of a deposit and be able to get into another place.All I can say is that I have never worked for such a more selfish,rude,inconsiderate and dishonest person before in my life.I gained my self respect back once I stopped doing her dirty deeds. T.A.

  • JFarr77

    Is this the same Eula I. Lekas that was positively ID’d back in 1996 and charged with disturbing the peace for chasing down and verbally assaulting a family while yelling racial epithets at them after they merely honked at her while she was about to J-walk to get back to her car on College Avenue. The problem was, she drove after this family with a suspended license.  Upon hastily parking behind the family’s car when they stopped for coffee at Peet’s near the Claremont, she started yelling at them to go back where they came from, to learn to drive, and to learn the laws of this land before going home to their own country.  She held back nothing in her relentlessly vile words even when she realized there was an 11 year old and a 2 year old in the car.  She is a big SEE U NEXT TIME.

  • Cal Fan

    I worked for Eula, as well.  She has a good side, but I think she struggles with many demons.  She has screaming matches with employees, including the use of profanity within earshot of tenants.  I’m hesitant to accuse her of intentionally stealing tenant deposits because I think it’s more a matter of her being completely disorganized and scatter-brained – or at least I think that’s how it started.  But… when the number of security deposits she hasn’t returned to deserving tenants reaches double digits within a couple years, having only 20 units, and when she avoids being served court papers and refuses to appear in court or comply with judgments made against her, the pattern is impossible to ignore.  

    Also, the first time I met her she told me, without prompting, that although it’s required by law, she doesn’t pay interest on security deposits.  She then rationalized it by saying something about the low rent – which is required by rent control.  I’ve since learned that she also ignores rent control caps, on occasion, and owes tens of thousands of dollars in fees and fines to the City of Berkeley.

    She thinks nothing of lying to tenants.  More often than not, she will say something is an “emergency,” in order to enter one or all of the units, simply because she hasn’t planned ahead and given the 24-hour notice as required by law – even for issues that have been looming, and about which she has been aware, for months and months.

    Eula’s choice of repairs to make on the building and individual apartments is puzzling, at best.  She has ignored repeated requests to pay for the phone line to the call box at the front door, and make repairs to windows with wood rot, but upgraded and painted the rear stairwell that was fine as it was, and nobody cared about.

    She can be extremely difficult to contact, and a vast majority of the very rare replies to emails are generally insufficient and ignore many or all of the issues raised or questions asked.  She has been known to go completely incommunicado for months at a time, not even bothering to deposit rent checks.

    As far as I know, she still owes several tenants their security deposits, plus interest and court fines and fees.  I wish them all well in recovering what is owed to them.