MSD Featured in SF Gate

The SF Gate featured MSD’s recent jury trial victory in a case involving a dispute between a commercial cannabis cultivator and its landlord. 

Calif. pot landlord hit with $387,000 in damages after alleged dog theft

A Los Angeles jury ordered a landlord to pay a $387,000 penalty last week for illegally evicting a cannabis business in 2019. The landlord also abducted the tenant’s dog for nearly a month, according to court documents.

The case stems from a 2019 dispute over a property south of downtown LA. CJ World, a cannabis company, had been renting the warehouse since 2012 and had a lease until 2020. But the building’s owner, a company called 147-151 W 25th St LLC, illegally changed the building’s locks in September of 2019 in an attempt to have a second cannabis company rent the space for a higher rent, according to court documents. 

When the landlord changed the locks in 2019, it also took the tenant’s 40-pound Australian shepherd named Po, according to court documents. The landlords reportedly abducted the dog for nearly a month, only returning the dog after the tenants sent a demand letter to the owners of the leasing company, court documents say.

CJ World sued the leasing company and its owners, Avi Aframian and Babak Aframian, claiming that the company had illegally breached its leasing contract and caused the cannabis company economic and emotional damages. SFGATE reached out to the Aframians’ attorney for comment, but had not heard back at time of publication.

On Wednesday, Dec. 14, an LA jury ruled in the cannabis company’s favor, awarding them over $387,000 in damages for wrongful eviction, breach of contract and emotional distress. 

Arash Sadat, an attorney representing CJ World, said landlords have historically taken advantage of cannabis businesses because of the legal gray area surrounding the industry.

“It seems to be a common thing where landlords see these cannabis tenants and really take advantage of them, in ways that happened here,” Sadat said.

The 2019 conflict arose directly because of the “gold rush” that followed California’s cannabis legalization, according to Sadat. The rented warehouse in CJ World’s case is located in one of the few areas where pot businesses can be licensed in Los Angeles. That made the property extremely unique when local and state governments started issuing cannabis permits in 2018.

“There were people willing to spend a lot of money to get a property like this. This property is one of the few places in LA that meets the zoning requirements for both cultivation and retail. It’s in a very unique place,” Sadat said.

CJ World held the property’s lease until 2020, but the property’s owners secretly signed a lease with a second cannabis company that had agreed to more than double the property’s rent, according to Sadat. CJ World discovered this other company had their own lease for the property when CJ World attempted to get a state permit.

Po, the Australian shepherd, was seized when the landlord’s changed the locks in 2019. Po’s owner, Eric Lee, was the general manager of CJ World, and had sought damages for the dog’s abduction, but the jury did not award any. Sadat said the defendants had argued in court that the dog was never harmed.

“The other side argued that the dog was returned, he wasn’t mistreated, no one beat him or did anything to him, the dog came back perfectly healthy. So there shouldn’t be any damages there and the jury bought it,” Sadat said.

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