BELLFLOWER — In a decision that drew boos from supporters of an apartment resident who claims she is being evicted unfairly, the city's legal adviser ruled Monday night that the City Council has no power to regulate how a landlord treats a tenant.
City Atty. Maurice F. O'Shea said a regulation limiting the eviction powers of a landlord would violate state law unless it is part of a general rent-control ordinance.
Eviction limits were proposed last month by City Councilman Joseph E. Cvetko after Sandra Meeham complained that she had been ordered to move out of her south Bellflower apartment by the landlord, former mayor Maurice G. (Mike) Brassard.
She said she was ordered to leave after she signed a court document acknowledging that a neighbor had received an eviction notice.
Meeham's eviction notice has triggered a controversy over tenant-landlord relations. After she was told to move early in June, Meeham began picketing Brassard's real estate office on Clark Avenue, sought media interviews and appealed to the City Council.
Despite the opinion by many legal advisers that landlords in cities with no rent control can evict tenants for little or no reason, Meeham has vowed to fight both in court and in the public arena.
Meeham, who has hired a lawyer, is permitted to remain in the two-bedroom Rose Street apartment she has shared for the past year with her husband and two children until a judge hears the case.
Meeham has also enlisted the support of state Sen. Cecil Green (D-Norwalk), who requested an investigation by Talmadge R. Jones, director of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
"Mr. Brassard's treatment of you in this matter is shameful," Green wrote in a June 27 letter. "As a former landlord, I know the value of keeping a good tenant, something which Mr. Brassard is failing to realize in this case."
The Meehams' problems began June 1, when she signed a court document that a neighbor was mailing to Los Cerritos Municipal Court. The document acknowledged that the neighbor had received a 30-day notice of eviction for failing to pay rent.
Three days later, Meeham and her husband, David, received their own notice to move out. Brassard, who said that the Meehams pay rent on time and are not boisterous, confirmed that he issued the notice to the Meehams because she signed the document.
"She was being cooperative with an uncooperative tenant," he said last month.
This week, Meeham said that she hoped the City Council would react favorably to the suggestion by Cvetko to pass a local law dealing with tenant-landlord relations.
But in a packed council meeting dominated by the Meeham case, O'Shea said that the city cannot legally come to Meeham's aid.
"In researching this question, I find no California case which upholds the right of a municipality to alter the grounds for evicting a tenant in absence of . . . having adopted rent control," O'Shea said.
The ruling, when announced, drew boos and grumblings from several residents who have supported Meeham.
"This legal opinion that Mr. O'Shea has written illustrates the city's indifference and the lack of concern for the tenants here in Bellflower," Meeham told the council.
Meeham then accused some council members of not coming to her aid because they are friends of Brassard, who left the mayoral post in April when he lost his bid for reelection to a second term on the council.
"I feel that very few of you are concerned with what has happened to me," Meeham said.
She also berated Mayor Kenneth Cleveland for allegedly "prowling in the dark" about 10:30 p.m. at her apartment last week. "Mr. Mayor, I would like to know why you came to my home. Did you want to talk to Mr. Brassard or to talk to me?"
"I wasn't there to talk to anybody," replied Cleveland, who, like Brassard, owns dozens of apartment units in the city. "It was for my information only."
Cleveland said that he was visiting Brassard's apartment complex late at night because "sometimes, the poor mayor works overtime."
Cleveland later instructed Robin Johnson, head of the Long Beach Fair Housing Foundation, to mediate the dispute between Meeham and Brassard, who also attended the council meeting but declined to comment publicly.
After speaking privately with Johnson, Brassard declined to say what, if anything, had been accomplished. Brassard is expected to meet again with members of the tenant relations agency, Johnson said.
Because of O'Shea's ruling in the Meeham case, the issue of rent control--a volatile topic in Bellflower--is likely to resurface as a concern among some residents, Cvetko said. During the last municipal election, a rent-control ordinance for mobile homes was defeated by a 3-1 margin.
Johnson, whose private, nonprofit agency is under contract with the city to handle tenant-landlord problems, said that the city should be wary of passing a rent-control ordinance.
"A rent-control ordinance is not a panacea," Johnson said.