Infamous Tempe landlord Timothy Wright has found himself the subject of a racketeering and fraud lawsuit brought by two wealthy Paradise Valley residents who had been his tenants.
Wright and his company, Rentals Tempe, have earned a reputation in Tempe for both evicting and suing tenants. The law firm that frequently represents Wright and his company promotes itself as “Doctor Evictor.”
In 2003, he was even the subject of a class action lawsuit brought by multiple tenants claiming their leases were illegal, among other allegations. Wright settled out of court.
Wright owns more than 100 properties, most of them in Tempe. About a dozen of his properties are eligible for federal low-income housing subsidies.
However, the tenants who are now going after Wright under Arizona’s racketeering laws are not his usual type of tenants.
Bradley and Tina Hillstrom rented a house owned by Wright in Paradise Valley for $15,000 a month, intending to use the property for large gatherings, including hosting political events.
Unlike most of Wright’s tenants, the Hillstroms have wealth, due to Bradley’s career as a doctor and businessman. They purchased a home in Paradise Valley last year for $4.8 million, according to AzCentral.com and have been large contributors to Republican political campaigns.
In May 2017, the Hillstroms signed a lease with Wright for the $2.2 million, 7,000 square foot Paradise Valley home.
According to their lawsuit, the Hillstroms began experiencing things other Wright tenants have said the landlord is known for.
Things around the house, such as the pool filter and heater, didn’t work and were never repaired, the Hillstroms allege. Additionally, they say the yard maintenance crew would often tell them they were not being paid, something other Wright tenants have said they were told by contractors hired by Wright.
“From time to time Hillstroms were forced to pay out of pocket for the lawn upkeep,” the lawsuit alleges, “especially in preparation for occasions when the HIllstroms would host important business and political events at the premises.”
Tiles around the home were cracked and falling, parts of the roof had water damage due to a clogged drain in the upstairs bedroom and several hornets’ nests were found along the property.
Additionally, Wright appeared to be using the property to store some of his belongings.
The Hillstroms would contact Wright about needed repairs, but they never happened. At one point, after the Hillstroms had been asking Wright to repair the roof, a blue tarp was placed on the roof but no repairs were ever made, the lawsuit alleges.
Unlike many of Wrights’ usual tenants, the Hillstroms were able to pay for the repairs.
Their total out-of-pocket expenses ended up exceeding $20,000, the lawsuit says.
“Defendant’s conduct was guided by an evil mind or was deliberately indifferent to the Plaintiffs’ rights sufficient to warrant an award of punitive damages,” the lawsuit says.
The Hillstroms initially sued Wright for fraudulent inducement, consumer fraud, common law fraud, negligent misrepresentation and breach of contract.
In response to the suit, Wright denied almost all the claims against him, and is counter-suing the Hillstroms.
Wright also argued in his response that the lease agreement states that the “landlord will not reimburse the tenant or pay for unauthorized repairs done at tenant request.”
Wright was successful in getting the court to throw out the couple’s first lawsuit on the basis that their argument of fraud and racketeering was too broad.
But the Hillstroms have filed a second lawsuit, which Wright has also asked the courts to dismiss. The court has not yet ruled on Wright’s request.
Wright is also claiming that the Hillstroms stole property from the rental, including rugs and furniture which he claims are worth between $40,000 and $50,000. The Hillstroms said in court filings that they did not steal anything, and claim they left the property in better condition than when the lease began.
The Hillstroms fired back in court filings by saying that Wright willfully and knowingly is defrauding his tenants.
“Generally, it appears that the majority of his tenants are ASU students who lack the resources to defend against his schemes,” their filing adding RICO charges says.
RICO is shorthand for the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act which was passed initially to fight the mob. It is meant to be a tool to bring down a corrupt organization by allowing someone who was ordering others to do illegal acts to be charged as well.
The second lawsuit includes the RICO accusations, which lawyers for the Hillstroms based on a pattern of bad Yelp and Better Business Bureau reviews of Wright.
Wright’s attorneys have argued that, since the Yelp and BBB reviews do not include full names, they cannot be used to prove a pattern of behavior.
A lawyer representing the Hillstroms said the couple would not agree to an interview.
Wright initially said he would speak with the Arizona Mirror under the condition that it take place with his lawyer present, but after 6 weeks of trying to schedule a meeting he withdrew the offer, writing in a text message that he is “not interested in meeting by[sic] the bottom of the bin reporters anymore” and calling Mirror reporting “on educated.”
The Hillstroms are not the first people to go after a landlord for RICO charges.
A failed lawsuit in 2016 went after an Oakland, Calif., landlord who purchased foreclosed homes after the market crashed and rented them out for high prices. A similar lawsuit in New York filed in 2017 appears to be ongoing.