A Southern California billionaire developer and one of President Donald Trump’s largest political donors has been accused of wrongly keeping millions of dollars in rental security deposits from thousands of tenants across Los Angeles.
The allegations filed against Geoffrey Palmer are included in a newly filed class-action lawsuit, filed by San Diego attorney Jimmie Davis Parker.
“We allege that Mr. Palmer, through his company systematically and in bad faith, retained security deposits by failing to properly document the work that they charge tenants for when they move out,” said Parker.
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By doing so, Parker said Palmer’s company secured millions of dollars in rental security deposits and other fees from as many as 11,000 former tenants.
Palmer and his company G.H. Palmer Associates controls more than 11,600 apartments and is worth, according to the company’s website, $4.5 billion. Palmer’s personal wealth is reported to be over $2.3 billion.
Palmer was also one of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s largest political benefactors, contributing $2 million to the Rebuilding America Now political action committee in 2016.
Palmer has long been a controversial figure in Los Angeles development circles. In 1991 he was charged with paying employees to make political donations to a campaign that opposed the incorporation of what is now the City of Santa Clarita.
In the decades since, Palmer has been involved in a number of lawsuits over development projects and affordable housing regulations in the city, including one lawsuit for tearing down the last cottage in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill neighborhood.
In the newly filed lawsuit, former tenants claim that Palmer’s company failed to provide adequate reasons for damages in apartments when tenants move-out, as required by state law. Instead, reads the lawsuit, generic descriptions such as “maintenance charge,” or, “cleaning charge” are listed.
According to a search of small claims cases, more than two dozen former tenants have filed lawsuits in small claims court against Palmer and his companies for keeping deposits and for unwarranted charges.
“I’m a hardworking single mother and if you have all that money and you’re ripping hardworking people off, it’s just not fair,” said former tenant Latasha Jennings.
Jennings said Palmer’s company tried to charger her $1,038 for new carpet after she moved out of the River Ranch Townhomes in Santa Clarita.
“I left that place spotless from head to toe,” said Jennings. “They even did an inspection and said everything was good before I signed the papers to leave.”
But Jennings said not long after she received a bill for $1,038.
Jennings filed a small claims case in November 2017. She said days before her court hearing, the company agreed to drop the charges if she dismissed the case.
Jennings is not alone.
Other tenants filed small claims cases for a litany of other complaints, alleging the company failed to give tenants an itemized summary of deductions, overcharged for cleaning and damages, and for “falsifying documents.”
Parker, the attorney that filed the proposed class action, said many people depend on those deposits when relocating.
“Most people who rent apartments are not wealthy individuals and they often times rely upon the return of their security deposit to help with the expense of moving locations.
They expect, and the law requires, that their security deposit is treated fairly upon their departure, this lawsuit aims to ensure that GHP Management has been in compliance with the law.
G.H Palmer Associates did not respond to NBC 7’s request for comment.
The lawsuit, which has yet to be certified as a class action, will now make its way through the courts.