Jury sides with tenant in $20 million lawsuit against landlord over fall, safety hazards

Walkway at Wimbledon Square Apartments. (Courtesy Robert Trebelhorn)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KATU) - A Multnomah County jury ruled in favor of a Portland man who argued his former landlord had failed to make necessary safety improvements to the aging apartment complex where he lived.

Robert Trebelhorn plunged waist-deep into a rotting, second-story walkway in February 2016.

He filed a lawsuit against Wimbledon Square Apartments and its parent company Prime Group, a Los Angeles-based real estate firm, after construction crews discovered serious dry rot and cracking concrete in the walkway.

His attorneys Jason and Greg Kafoury say Prime Group refused to make repairs for at least a decade.

"[Prime Group] was not just not fixing things, it was actively covering up rotten wood by painting over it," Jason Kafoury said. "They were giving an illusion of safety, when in reality, they were just trying to make tenants think it was safe."

Trebelhorn suffered cuts to his legs and tore his meniscus.

"We don’t fit into their plan," Trebelhorn told KATU. "The only plan that we fit into is that we pay our rent on time. Where that money goes? I don’t know. But it doesn’t go to maintenance, and that was obvious."

His attorneys gathered pages of evidence, but were largely helped by former employees who testified against Prime Group, company emails and inspections.

"We had four former employees who had the courage to come into the courtroom and tell the truth," Jason Kafoury said. "All of them said that Prime Group had serious rot issues for over a decade and would not spend the money to make the place safe."

The attorney pointed to a July 2014 email between the apartments' then-property manager and the former head of capital investments.

The property manager wrote, "I think it's important that if it comes up, we inform Ownership of the severe dry rot we have continuing at [Wimbledown Square Gardens and Wimbledon Gardens]."

They also pointed to a telling 2017 inspection by the Portland Fire Marshal's Office that directed Prime Group to "repair all walls, ceilings and floors where the sheetrock, siding, decking or wall coverings have been water damaged or otherwise compromised."

"All they have done is siphoned money out of this place and watch it rot," Greg Kafoury said. "Now, getting it for $20 million, they have to reconsider how they treat people."

The Kafourys says the ruling is only monetary, it does not require Prime Group to make additional repairs.

But, Trebelhorn believes it sends a message to Prime Group, landlords and tenants.

"I think it is going to empower people," he said, "that are out there like me, tenants, to be able to say, 'You know what, I can hold landlords accountable.'"

KATU asked Prime Group for comment Sunday, but the company did not respond by deadline.

Prime Group can appeal the $20 million judgement.

The company holds an estimated $7 billion worth of real estate assets across the country. According to public property tax records, Prime Group owns four other properties in the Portland metro area.

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