A Mountain View landlord and four accomplices were arrested Monday night for allegedly attempting to physically force a family with children out of their apartment. The crime is being described by police officials as an unprecedented move by a local apartment owner to intimidate a renter into leaving a rent-controlled unit.
The landlord, identified as 50-year-old Reenu Saini of Sunnyvale, allegedly had become frustrated because the residents, a married couple and their two children, were behind on their rent. On Monday evening, Aug. 26, she reportedly called four associates to act as hired muscle by helping her to scare or force the tenants into leaving the property, located on the 2000 block of Rock Street.
What resulted was a standoff. Saini and her group arrived and demanded the family exit the property while the tenants refused to leave or open the door, according to police. Saini and her group reportedly shut off the power to the apartment unit and they attempted to break open the door. At one point, one of the male accomplices tried to use a knife to force open the door, nearly cutting one of the tenants who was trying to hold it closed from the other side.
Not long afterward, police were call to the scene after being notified of a burglary in progress. Officers arrived to find Saini and her group still on the front lawn of the property, and all of them were detained.
By this time, the family living in the apartment had fled their home out the backdoor, and were later located about a block down the street.
As they interviewed the involved parties, police officials say it became clear that Saini and her group repeatedly broke the law in their attempt to evict the tenants. Saini was arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery, burglary, conspiracy to commit a crime and unlawfully shutting off the power.
Three other suspects involved, identified as San Jose residents Lori Walston, 49, Brian Ross, 49, and Debra McNeil, 52, were each arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery, burglary and conspiracy charges. A fifth suspect, 53-year-old Steven Carling, was arrested on suspicion of the same charges plus assault with a deadly weapon for using a knife to force open the apartment door.
On Tuesday, the Rock Street apartment still showed signs of the attempted home invasion, and the front door was splintered in several places. Speaking from behind the closed door, the father of the family declined to answer questions, saying they had been overwhelmed by the media response. As he spoke, a broadcast news crew was finishing up an interview with a member of the Mountain View Tenants Coalition in front of the property.
"We don't want any more attention from this," the father said.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the family had moved out from North Carolina about a month ago for a job offer and initially stayed in a different Airbnb rental owned by Saini, who later set them up at the Rock Street apartment when the job fell through.
The family said they had a verbal agreement with Saini to pay $3,900 a month in rent, but they later noticed that their lease actually stipulated $10,000 per month, according to media reports. By last week, Saini reportedly began sending threatening messages warning they needed to immediately pay or leave.
Police officials could not immediately provide the Voice with additional details, saying that officers are still finishing their report. It's unclear how long the victim family had lived in the apartment or how much back rent they allegedly owed to Saini.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Saini has been actively pursuing real estate investments for at least five years through her own company, Reesha Capital. Current listings for her company on her Zillow page show at least six properties available for rent for above-market prices, including a 3-bedroom apartment on Mountain View Avenue going for more than $10,000 a month. A furnished 2-bedroom unit at the Rock Street apartments where Saini was arrested is listed for $7,250 a month. Many of Saini's properties in Mountain View are also listed for bookings on short-term rental sites, which are supposed to be tightly restricted for investment properties under new city rules.
According to Mountain View's apartment registry, Saini's Rock Street apartment building is covered under the city's rent control program. This means she would be prohibited from raising rents beyond the cost of inflation as long as her current tenants remained living there. City records show no indication that Saini had attempted to serve her tenants with a termination notice prior to Monday's altercation.
"This was a deliberate attempt using scare tactics to evict a family from a home," said police Lt. Armando Espitia in a statement. "There are civil procedures and remedies that landlords and tenants can pursue with regard to late rent payments, but unfortunately these individuals took extremely dangerous and unlawful steps that resulted in their arrest."