By City News Service
A judge issued a tentative decision exonerating "New Jack City" actor Mario Van Peebles and a real estate company of any liability in a lawsuit involving the sale of the actor's Playa del Rey condominium, whose buyer says he discovered mold and a flooring defect.
However, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Steven Kleifield ordered the Waterfront Homeowners Association to pay Adel Bebawy $26,217 for repair work on the floor and the kitchen as well as civil penalties for not keeping him informed about board meetings. The judge scheduled a hearing March 17 on whether to enter final judgment.
Bebawy filed suit in March 2009, alleging that after he acquired Van Peebles' waterfront condominium in 2007 for $1.37 million, he discovered the floor had a severe slope and that there was significant mold in a bathroom.
Kleifield took the case under submission after hearing final arguments in the non-jury trial in October. He wrote in his 24-page ruling issued Friday that although Van Peebles did not reveal the existence of mold, it did not affect the condo's value.
"The court does not condone the non-disclosures by Van Peebles," Kleifield wrote. "The history of mold in the unit should have been disclosed. It was not. However, the court does find that Bebawy would have purchased the property regardless of whether there had been disclosure or not, and that there was no proof of diminution of value of his unit as a result of the non- disclosure."
The judge also noted that Van Peebles testified there was "no significant or popping up of tiles on the unit's floor and that the actor and his children all said they "walked barefoot in the unit."
It was not until Bebawy started having a hardwood floor installed that the sloping "became an issue," Kleifield wrote.
"This decision (by Bebawy) to proceed notwithstanding this knowledge, and not any concealment by Van Peebles, was the cause of his problems," according to Kleifield.
In his closing argument to Kleifield, plaintiff's attorney Darren McBratney said his client cannot sell the property because of the defects and that he should be able to rescind the contract with Van Peebles.
But the 56-year-old actor's attorney, Eric Meller, said that Van Peebles did not intend to deceive Bebawy when filling out the seller disclosure material. He also said Bebawy brought the "Damages" co-star into the litigation after he could not get satisfaction from the homeowners association.
According to McBratney, the actor's mother, Maria Marx, initially said in a declaration that she and her son knew about the problems with the floor, but changed her story during her deposition a month later.
According to McBratney, Marx said: "Oh, I'm in so much trouble for talking to you, I just want to die. Why did you ever involve me in this?"
Marx maintained in the deposition that the only problems she was aware of with the floor were cracks caused by a heavy table and by her son dropping a weight.
But Kleifield gave little weight to Marx's deposition testimony.
"To say that Ms. Marx is an eccentric hermit ... would be an understatement," Kleifield wrote. "Her two videotaped depositions were painful to watch. It is likely that she told Mr. McBratney what he wanted to hear on the telephone, and signed the declaration, so that she would have to leave her apartment and give (trial) testimony."
Van Peebles' daughter, Maya Van Peebles, also changed her story after giving a sworn declaration confirming portions of the unit's floors were uneven, McBratney said.
But Meller said the references to Marx and Maya Van Peebles shows the plaintiff's case was built largely on "two smidgens of evidence" involving the statements of an elderly woman who never had a chance to read her declaration before signing it and a girl who was 16 at the time and was trying to protect her father.
The 57-year-old Van Peebles attended most of the trial, which began with testimony July 17.