A Hollywood (Hills) Ending

How Gregory L. Bentley and Inner City Law Center helped tenants who didn’t know their rights—or that they had any

Published in 2015 Southern California Super Lawyers — February 2015

When Ashley Parris, a senior staff attorney at Inner City Law Center, asked Gregory L. Bentley to help litigate a low-income housing case, pro bono, it didn’t take him long to say yes.

“You always feel compelled to help the little guy, and I’ve always admired those that did pro bono work and helped the least of these,” says Bentley, a married father of three whose main work is insurance litigation at Shernoff Bidart Echeverria Bentley. “It’s something I always wanted to do and I just never found time to do it.”

The case, Villegas, et al. v. Vista Cahuenga, et al., centered on a run-down 100-unit building with only 30 occupied units and  landlords who failed to meet housing codes for fire safety, pestilence, mold, plumbing, electrical and flooring. Units didn’t have electricity. Cockroaches and bedbugs were rampant.

“You see the conditions and it’s a no-brainer: We have to do something, we have to make a change,” Bentley says. “The tenants just didn’t understand they had rights. It was shocking to me that these people put up with it for as long as they did.”

The kicker? The apartment building was in Hollywood Hills.

“You always think [such conditions are in] some third-world country,” says Bentley. “But when you actually see it in the city where you work and live … It made me angry that people could treat other people like that.”

Bentley credits his father’s work as a teacher and elementary school principal and his mother’s natural empathy for “the DNA in me” that guides him in his profession.

“Whether it’s an insurance company that’s not paying claims when they’re due, or denying health care for patients whose doctors say they need it, or if it’s somebody who’s suffered a tragedy as the result of a car accident or the loss of a loved one, you have to have empathy for your clients,” he says. “We deal with situations where tragedy has happened. Our job is to do the best we can to bring back as much semblance of life so these families can get back to as normal as possible. And to make sure that whoever did cause the problem is held accountable and those who suffered are compensated.”

The Villegas case ended in April with a nearly $4 million settlement.

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