Landlord Stephen T. Copen was arrested and booked last Monday by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office after forcefully evicting a tenant from his 611 Gayley Avenue property. He was charged with misdemeanor vandalism for tossing his tenant’s property out of the unit and allegedly causing $2k in damage. Not only was this eviction illegal (there was no court order), but it occurred despite the City of LA’s eviction moratorium.
This is a simple story of a landlord unwilling to wait. His tenant was in the process of vacating a double room at the landlord’s 611 Gayley Avenue property on Monday, August 31st. The lease was to expire at midnight. But that afternoon the landlord, Stephen T. Copen, arrived with his wife and business partner, Naghmeh Makhani, to find personal property there. Copen called the University of California Police Department but the lease was still in effect and the police allowed the tenant to stay.
Copen and Makhani then returned to the room. As the video rolls, we see Copen without a word of explanation physically eject personal property from the room. As the tenant and onlookers protest Makhani taunts, “We’re helping you move out!”
In the process Copen damages personal property which can be plainly heard on the tape. The cops were called and upon finding Copen (reportedly) showering in the tenant’s room they took him away for booking.
The charge, according to UC police, is malicious mischief and vandalism pursuant to Penal Code Title 14 §594(a)(2). Evidently Copen was cited because he intentionally damaged his tenant’s property.
Copen is clearly a hands-on landlord willing to give his tenants a helping-hand on moving day. But this is not the way to do it. The lease was still in effect and the landlord had no court-ordered judgment for possession of the premises. Even if he had a judgment in hand, he did not properly serve the tenant with the required five-day notice of lock-out.
Even if Copen had gone to court on unlawful detainer and then properly served his tenant with a writ of repossession, it is the sheriff, not the landlord, who physically takes possession prior to restoring possession of the premises to the landlord. That is the key point.
Moreover in a lawful eviction Copen would still have a duty of care for the tenant’s personal property. Here he treats it like junk. What we see in this video is patently unlawful on many levels. Was he not aware that the Governor’s executive order barred evictions like this one during the pandemic?
Anyway, where does Copen find the time for hands-on management of his many rental properties in Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles? He is a Cedars-affiliated physician with a private practice. Healing must be his side gig!
‘The Copen Ordinance’
Renters Alliance readers may remember Stephen Copen as the landlord who single-handedly accomplished what Beverly Hills tenants could not: he brought an end to no-just-cause evictions in the city. No-just-cause eviction was the law of the land until the good doctor served an eviction notice on newlywed tenants in apparent retaliation for city amendments to the rent stabilization ordinance.
On the evening of October 10, 2018 Copen watched on TV as our city council discussed rent stabilization. Before that meeting even ended Copen had posted an eviction notice on the door of two newlywed tenants at his 133 S. Reeves property. They paid their rent so why an eviction? “It’s nothing personal” he told his tenants when they called. He just didn’t like what the city was doing.
Copen apparently thought he could summarily evict these tenants before the city council got around to ending no-just-cause evictions. Indeed Copen had done it before. He summarily booted a 29-year tenant at his 458 South Roxbury property. (That father of two then landed in short-term housing nearby just so he could keep his BHHS kids enrolled.) Months earlier Copen had booted another 30-year tenant at that property. Her offense? She enjoyed a large apartment with a nice view of Roxbury Park from his rental property. But it was time for her to “downsize,” he told city council. Weeks later she got her walking papers.
Serving the newlyweds with an eviction while city council discussed the rent stabilization ordinance proved too much for councilmembers once the newlyweds shared their story. Just hours after they spoke the ink was drying on an urgency ordinance that put an end to no-just-cause evictions. “Let’s call it the Copen ordinance,” quipped Councilmember John Mirisch.
Rent Stabilization is Not In the Business Model
Just a couple of months after city council adopted the ‘Copen ordinance’ the good doctor made another appearance (in spirit) at city council. This time, the new tenants at that same 458 South Roxbury property were airing credible allegations that Copen had moved-in sham tenants order to circumvent the ordinance requirement that a rent not be raised after a no-just-cause eviction was served.
Copen had indeed raised the rent on the new tenants: they were paying about $1,000 more than the evicted tenants. The allegations implicated both apartments at that property from which he had evicted tenants.
Councilmember Wunderlich upon hearing that suggested the city investigate Copen for installing allegedly the sham tenants. Councilmember Julian Gold agreed. “I would prosecute this guy.”
Lately Copen seems to have transitioned to a new business model: ‘corporate housing.’ He’s advertised furnished units at least two Reeves properties. They are available for short-term stays, which effectively removes those units from the regular rental market. More importantly it keeps the city off his back about violations of the rent stabilization ordinance.
Questions Raised about 611 Gayley Avenue
The unlawful eviction of his tenant from the 611 Gayley property has called attention to that property. He built 611 Gayley a few years ago as a fraternity/boardinghouse adjacent to UCLA. (It is not affiliated with the university.) Today the Galey property houses both fraternity-affiliated students and non-fraternity residents alike in double, triple and quad rooms on individual leases.
Neighborhood opponents of the project cited concerns that Copen would boost the number of residents once the property was occupied. That would effectively transform it from a fraternity house into a boardinghouse.
That concerned proved prescient: according to a resident who lived there, occupancy should be 54 persons, according to the number and type of rooms. Nearly a quarter more residents can now reside there because Copen has constructed interior partitions in common rooms to accommodate additional tenants. He is also reported to accommodate additional tenants in spaces designated as ‘study rooms.’
These interior changes have occurred after 611 Gayley had received its certificate of occupancy. Images shared with Renters Alliance show the divided rooms.
Neighborhood concerns about the project prompted Copen to agree to a long list of conditions concerning sanitation, maintenance and landscaping that must continue to be met. We’re not optimistic. Copen may be hands-on when it comes to tossing-out tenants but he’s not particularly hands-on when it comes to property maintenance.
Stephen T. Copen owns at least eight properties in Beverly Hills. Do you live in one of them? Get in touch!
- 133 S. Reeves (133–135)
- 152 S. Reeves
- 156 S. Reeves (9417–9429 Charleville)
- 200 S. Reeves
- 201 S. Reeves (9428 Charleville & 9430 Charleville)
- 136 S. Roxbury
- 458 S. Roxbury (458–460 1/2)
- 341 S. Doheny