The landlord of a North Philadelphia apartment complex has reached an agreement with at least 20 tenants he was seeking to evict, lawyers said Friday, and the emergency injunction seeking to remove the tenants has been withdrawn.
The injunction filed by building owner Gagandeep Lakhmna in March sought to remove the residents of more than two dozen units of the Moscow & Monica apartments, where residents said they were scammed out of their rent money by the former property manager.
The residents had also been locked out of their apartments more than once since late February, and the state Attorney General’s Office intervened in the case last month.
Lawyers representing Lakhmna and the tenants declined to elaborate on the specifics of the agreement, as discussions involving a settlement are ongoing.
The underlying ejectment case against the tenants remains, but could take up to six months to resolve. Community Legal Services, which is representing many of the tenants, also filed counter claims against the landlord because of the lockouts.
Settlement discussions continue in both those cases.
Common Pleas Court Judge Joshua Roberts has been presiding over the case that originally involved more than 25 tenants of the Moscow & Monica — located just west of Fishtown — who say they were scammed out of their rent money by the complex’s former property manager, Frank Sanders. Sanders allegedly made oral lease agreements with the tenants, which lawyers argue are legal leases for up to three years in Pennsylvania.
Efforts to reach Sanders, who allegedly pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in tenants’ rent and security deposits, have been unsuccessful; nor have residents and attorneys been able to contact him.
Lakhmna and his attorneys at the Gamburg & Benedetto law firm had argued the residents were not legal tenants because Lakhmna did not execute the leasing agreements. Lakhmna filed an emergency injunction in March to have all the tenants removed, and the new building manager began locking out tenants and shutting off some units’ power and utilities.
On Friday, the injunction case all but concluded, with a final hearing set for April 30.
Much of Friday was spent parsing out who lived in the seven additional units in the case, whose tenants had not identified themselves in the past, despite a court order, or appeared empty. It was determined that two of the units are unoccupied, and Roberts said the building may regain control of them. Roberts ordered the residents of three units who have not identified themselves to come forward at the next hearing, or the building can regain control of those units.
Hearings in the case began March 15, and after numerous residents were locked out, Roberts ordered that all tenants be allowed back in their units until the case is resolved. But on March 29, more than a dozen tenants were again locked out. Some people had to sleep in their cars or stay with friends because they couldn’t get into their residences.
On March 31, Roberts found Lakhmna in civil contempt for those lockouts. Lakhmna was fined $22,500, plus $500 in state attorney fees. Those funds have been deposited to the courts, Roberts said, and will be distributed to the affected residents.
On Monday, Roberts decided not to pursue contempt charges against Lakhmna, saying that the action thus far “seems to have marked a change in how the plaintiffs are going to conduct themselves” and that further charges would not be “beneficial of the overall resolution of the case.”
Lakhmna apologized for the lockouts, though he attributed them to a mix-up with his electronic system. His attorneys now oversee the impacted tenants’ building access.
Lakhmna is a developer with numerous properties, primarily in Philadelphia and Los Angeles. There are a string of complaints against his Philadelphia properties, and he is in the midst of building an apartment complex in Kensington that neighbors and a local Council member fiercely oppose.
The city issued a stop work order against the apartment complex earlier this month due to unsafe demolition practices and the contractor’s working without a demolition license.