E. Palo Alto landlord accused of vandalizing tenants' cars in order to raise rent

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EAST PALO ALTO (KTVU) --  A 74-year-old Peninsula landlord is facing felony charges after authorities say he vandalized the vehicles of his tenants in an attempt to get them to move out so he could raise the rent to market rate.

Nemat Malek Salehi, owns Stanford Garden Apartments, located at 1735 Woodland Ave., and is facing at least three different cases of vandalism in connection with the incidents, prosecutors said.

John Small has lived at the complex in East Palo Alto for three years and said his car was damaged last year after someone keyed it.

"Alone you might think it's random vandalism but this has been happening in this apartment complex for as long as I've been here," Small said.

He said his suspicions about who was responsible grew after he spoke to his landlord, who suggested he move out.

Three other residents came forward saying Malek Salehi had damaged their cars this past summer. Surveillance video obtained by KTVU shows someone in the landlord's  car shooting at the windows of a tenant's car with a BB gun.

According to San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe, the landlord's motive was to force them out so he could raise the rents. Residents in rent controlled units pay $1,100 a month while the market rate for the units is $2,800.

Prosecutors say if Malek Salehi is convicted, he could face up to four years in prison.

"We think it's such an egregious offense that it warrants the felony treatment," said San Mateo County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe. "Most landlords would never even think of doing anything like this. When a landlord does this, we think it's truly taken advantage of our people who need that rent control."

Authorities have also charged the landlord's son, Auria Malek Salehi, 30, for attempting to dissuade a victim from pursuing charges. The younger man could face up to a year in county jail.

The elder Nemat Maleksalehi has been charged with felony destruction of property. He pleaded not guilty to the charge and is set to appear in court again Oct. 26 at 1 p.m., Wagstaffe said.

His son has been charged with misdemeanor attempting to dissuade a witness from cooperating with a criminal investigation. He also pleaded not guilty to the charge and is set to appear in court next on Feb. 15, Wagstaffe said.

Both of the suspects surrendered after arrest warrants were issued last month. They have been released on their own recognizance.

"Here you have a guy with a lot of money, a landlord with millions of dollars and here he is talking the time to shoot at the back of cars, key cars and cause crime to hard-working individuals," Small said. "It's not something you want to hear."

KTVU's calls to the landlord's attorney were not returned. 

By KTVU reporter Azenith Smith. Bay City News contributed to this report.