BELLFLOWER — Sandra Meeham says she is being forced from her apartment for being a good neighbor.
On June 1, she signed a legal document--as a disinterested party--confirming that a neighbor had properly responded to an eviction notice from landlord Maurice G. (Mike) Brassard, the former Bellflower mayor.
On June 3, Meeham and her husband were given their own eviction notice by Brassard.
"She was cooperative with an uncooperative tenant," said Brassard, who owns dozens of apartment units in Bellflower, Long Beach and Paramount.
The Meehams' notice gave them seven days to move out of the two-bedroom Rose Street apartment they share with their three children.
As of this week, however, the Meeham family remains in the apartment. Meeham, 30, says she is gearing up for a legal battle with Brassard, even though experts say the former mayor is within his rights to evict tenants with little or no reason.
"All I did was sign the paper and now he wants me out as a troublemaker," Meeham said.
Although the odds seem stacked against her overturning the eviction, Meeham said she is ready to take her case to court, if necessary, and has hired a lawyer.
'It's the Principal'
"I've let things slide before and I'm not backing down on this one," said Meeham. "It's the principal."
Neighbor Joseph Marino said Brassard sent him an eviction notice when he fell a month behind in rent and refused to move three broken-down automobiles from the apartment driveway. Marino decided not to contest the eviction, so he asked Meeham to witness the fact that he had mailed a reply to the eviction notice.
Marino said Brassard's subsequent action against Meeham is "unfair because she just signed a paper for us. All she did was stick it in the mail. She kind of got stuck in the mess, too."
Brassard said Meeham's signature was the final act in an "unworkable relationship" that dates back to when the Meehams moved into the apartment complex early last year. When the family complained about conditions in their unit, Brassard agreed to move them to another.
Brassard acknowledged that the Meehams have always been on time with rent payments and have not caused trouble with other tenants. But he said he is determined to have them out and is confident they will vacate his apartment building by the end of the month.
"It's getting to summer now and the kids will be out of school," said Brassard. "I think it's a good time they moved out of there.
"I made a mistake and allowed them to stay," he continued. "The whole thing just upsets me."
If the Meehams don't move by the end of the month, Brassard said he will file a detainer, claiming that they are unlawfully occupying the apartment. It would be the first step in eviction proceedings.
In a display of determination, however, Meeham began picketing Brassard's Clark Avenue business office with her 4-year-old daughter a week ago, carrying signs that read: "I'll fight to keep my home," and "Mike Brassard, former mayor, is against constitutional rights."
Last Friday, she was featured on a local newscast with a consumer reporter.
The ordeal, Meeham said, is "teaching me about myself." But it has also embittered her. Meeham telephoned several City Council members to complain about Brassard, who had to give up his council seat as well as the appointed mayoral post when he lost a bid for a second term two months ago. Only one member expressed sympathy, she said.
In addition, she said it took dozens of phone calls before she found a lawyer willing to hear her case without asking for thousands of dollars in retainer fees.
"It may be his house, but it's our home. Don't we have rights too?" she said.
Cerritos attorney Ramon Kuzbicki, who agreed to help, said Meeham's disenchantment is typical.
"A lot of tenants are surprised when they find out that they hardly have any rights at all," Kuzbicki said.
Roberto Aldape, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based Eviction Defense Center of Legal Aid, said that Meeham's case is not uncommon in cities that do not have tenant-oriented ordinances and rent-control laws.
Doesn't Need a Reason
"The problem is that in non-rent-control cities", where there is no effective grievance process, "the landlord can evict for any reason or for no reason at all," Aldape said. "All they need to do is give notice to terminate.
"In this situation, the landlord can pretty much do what he wants to do," he added. "It's a major problem, and one most people aren't willing to fight."
City Councilman Joseph Cvetko said that rent control is a volatile issue in Bellflower. He pointed out that a controversial mobile home rent-control ordinance on the April municipal election ballot failed by a 3-1 margin. Because of that defeat, he said, the City Council will not move on its own to add Bellflower to the list of rent control cities.
"It's very 'slim to none' that the council will vote on (rent control)," said Cvetko.
Despite the opposition, Meeham contends that she did nothing wrong and will fight to stay at the apartment, though she admits the dispute will eventually cause her and her husband to move.
"You just can't live with that bitterness," she said. "But nobody has fought Brassard before. He met his match when he met me."