Record $1.3 million judgment in SR housing suit

A Santa Rosa family who lived in a mold-plagued apartment and their lawyers will split $1.3 million in the most expensive substandard housing verdict in Sonoma County history.

Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Knoel Owen approved $643,435 in fees for the family's attorneys Monday. Earlier this year, a jury awarded $694,550 to tenant Tina Rogers and her 8-year-old son, David.

The jury unanimously agreed that two Tiburon landlords and a Santa Rosa property manager, Molln Properties, knowingly rented an apartment to the Rogers that was a health hazard. Jurors agreed the defendants refused to make repairs and retaliated when Tina Rogers asked for help.

``Nobody deserves to live in that kind of environment,'' said Keith Byers, jury foreman for the four-week trial.

The property owners and Molln Properties have appealed the verdict, saying in court documents that the award was excessive. They said the conditions in the apartment were mainly Tina Rogers' fault. In addition, they contended testimony that the mold and cockroaches affected the Rogers' health was scientifically unreliable.

They declined to discuss the case because it is under appeal.

``The amount of the verdict alone demonstrates that the jury was motivated by passion and prejudice, (and) did not listen to the evidence,'' Santa Rosa attorney Heather Smith wrote in her argument supporting the appeal.

She also said it was unfair to conduct the trial without the presence of property owners Ann and Joseph Colletto, whose poor health prevented them from attending.

``On a good day'' the case had a reasonable value of $20,000 to $40,000, Smith said.

Most of the jurors disagreed, awarding $694,550 to compensate Rogers for living in an unhealthy apartment plagued by mold for more than three years, Byers said. Three jurors voted for a lesser amount. The award did not include punitive damages.

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