Neighbors Win Damages in Le Chateau Lawsuit

Contact Jane Yang at [email protected]

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Twelve of the 22 plaintiffs suing the University Students' Cooperative Association were awarded $5,000 each in damages related to Southside's Le Chateau cooperative yesterday.

Three more plaintiffs were awarded amounts ranging from $750 to $1,500. Seven cases were dismissed because the plaintiffs were unable to make their respective court dates.

The ruling, issued by Commissioner Jon Rantzman of the Alameda County Small Claims Court in Berkeley, said the co-op poses a nuisance to its neighbors and the association has done nothing to alleviate this problem while having full knowledge of it.

The "defendant has maintained and continues to maintain a nuisance ... including but not limited to condoning a pattern of extreme noise, visual blight (garbage and graffiti), vandalism, and aggressive, hostile and intimidating conduct from its largely undergraduate residents," Rantzman wrote in the ruling.

Twenty-two neighbors filed the suit for a total of $110,000 last February, citing general "bad neighborliness" by the co-op's residents. Neighbors complained that Le Chateau residents were noisy and disruptive, at times throwing objects from their roof and shouting obscenities at passers-by.

"Initially, of course, we found the ruling really inexplicable," said Nick Hamilton, president of the co-op association. "We felt like some claims were highly exaggerated and couldn't believe some of the rulings that had gone through."

To determine individual restitution amounts, the court took into account the neighbor's proximity to the co-op, duration of residency and other calculated personal losses.

"This is an extraordinary victory," said Michelle Pellegrin, who lives next door to the co-op and was awarded the maximum amount of $5,000 from the settlement. "It certainly sent a signal to (Le Chateau). I hope they take this opportunity really seriously and make some changes so that they stop being a nuisance. That's all we want."

Le Chateau neighbor George Lewinski, who said he has been filing complaints about the co-op for nearly 15 years, said the ruling has been a long time coming. However, he said, the neighborhood plaintiffs are not reveling in their legal victory.

"We're not happy that relations deteriorated to such an extent that we had to take such action," he said. "We've tried to talk and explain for years but nothing happened until we launched the suit."

Representatives from the association are considering whether to appeal the court's ruling.

The ruling will set the association back $63,250 at a time when it is in the midst of making seismic upgrades and increasing disabled access to another one of its co-ops, Euclid Hall. The burden will likely be placed on co-op residents.

"One way or another, rents are going to have to go up to pay for the costs incurred," said George Proper, general manager of the association.

Proper said he was concerned with rent increases because a number of Le Chateau residents are students in the Educational Opportunity Program, whose finances are already strained.

"Hitting the university's low-income students is particularly painful," he said.

Association representatives said they will try to address future neighborhood issues more broadly and proactively, and work to improve relations between co-ops and their neighbors.

One idea is to have house managers attend neighborhood meetings, and a town hall meeting next month will discuss the role of co-ops in the community.

"This extends beyond Chateau, and all our co-ops could improve their neighbor-relation," said Kathryn McCarthy, the association's development director.


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