A homeowner in Brentwood, California, is reportedly dealing with a years-long battle with a squatter whose initial six-month room rental has now surpassed two years, prompting a legal battle over unpaid rent, tenants’ rights and housing code violations.
Sascha Jovanovic started renting a guesthouse on his luxury property through Airbnb in 2019. He approved a longer-term, six-month rental to Elizabeth Hirschhorn in September 2021 at a rate of $105 a night, which with fees amounted to $20,793 for 187 nights, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Tensions began about five months into Hirschhorn’s stay when Jovanovic was asked to repair some blinds and noticed water damage and mold. Jovanovic offered to pay for her to stay in a hotel for five days while things were repaired, according to messages exchanged that were included in an eviction lawsuit he later filed.
Hirschhorn turned down that offer, as well as an offer to stay in Jovanovic’s home, citing COVID-19 tenant protections along with concerns about medical sensitivities related to chemicals and cat dander, per a countersuit she has since filed. The dispute continued until her Airbnb stay officially ended on March 19, 2022, at which point the two informally agreed she could stay until April 12 to find another place to stay.
“She asked for more time, but I told her it wasn’t possible since I had other Airbnb reservations coming up,” Jovanovic told the Times. “But then I tried to be nice and give her an extra few weeks.”
After the mutual extension ended, Hirschhorn still refused to leave, at which point the city’s housing authorities became involved in the matter. Jovanovic offered $2,000 to help Hirschhorn move out while threatening to evict her if she remained beyond April 12.
Hirschhorn said she couldn’t leave on that date because she didn’t have a relocation and funding plan in place, saying it would be unsafe for her to leave at that time but that she was willing to work something out. She last paid rent on April 12, 2022, and remains at the location more than 500 days later, according to the report.
“The landlord broke the law and tried to make money by renting out an illegal bootleg unit,” Hirschhorn’s attorney, Colin Walshok, told the Times. “After he was caught, instead of doing the right thing, he has resorted to bullying, harassment and the filing of frivolous lawsuits containing elaborate false stories, all in attempt to cover his tracks.”
When Jovanovic extended Hirschhorn’s stay beyond March 19 through the informal agreement, Airbnb’s legal role in the matter ended, and the company isn’t a party to litigation on the matter. Airbnb noted to FOX Business that it removed Hirschhorn from its platform in 2022 and added that guests must abide by the platform’s community standards and terms of service, and can be removed for violations.
Jovanovic has reportedly been unable to serve multiple eviction notices. Hirschhorn contacted the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety, which found that the property’s guesthouse wasn’t approved for occupancy and had an unapproved shower. She then notified the housing authority, which concluded that the eviction notices couldn’t be enforced because of the code violations.
According to his lawsuit, Jovanovic was unable to access the unit for the purpose of making repairs and securing the necessary permits, so the guesthouse remains out of compliance, and he has been fined $600 by the city.
Litigation between the two reportedly remains ongoing. Hirschhorn’s attorneys previously offered to settle the matter for a $100,000 relocation fee, but the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, the Times reported.
Jovanovic is seeking damages amounting to $58,000 for unpaid rent as well as a detainer to allow her eviction to move forward. While a judge denied the eviction suit, citing a rent stabilization ordinance, Jovanovic has appealed the ruling.
Hirschhorn has filed a complaint against Jovanovic, accusing him of negligence, nuisance, intentional infliction of emotional distress, unlawful business practices and violations of Los Angeles County’s COVID-19 renter protections. She is seeking to be repaid the $20,793 in rent over the unit’s code violations.