A man whose homeowner’s association has been fining him for renting out his properties to military service members said a new law will protect his tenants.
Ron Zurawski owns two large homes in the Arrowood housing subdivision in Oceanside, less than one-quarter mile from Camp Pendleton.
For more than a decade, he has rented out rooms in those two homes for $650 to $750 a month to 12 Marines, Navy Corpsmen and veterans. Zurawski said he does the same with three more homes outside of the subdivision.
But last year, the leasing arrangement in Arrowood made headlines when the Arrowood Homeowners Association said Zurawski violated covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs) that say the neighborhood is for single families, not mini-dormitories.
The HOA started fining Zurawski $2,000 a month for breaking the rules and filed a civil lawsuit against him. Those fines have now totaled $42,000, as of November 2019, and Zurawski has countersued.
Arrowhead said they were forced to take legal action after Zurawski failed to comply with their restrictions.
"In response, Mr. Zurawski has countersued Arrowood for numerous claims, and, shockingly, is seeking substantial monetary damages against Arrowood for simply enforcing its governing documents," the HOA said in a statement.
The HOA said several of those claims have already been dismissed.
Zurawski hopes a recently signed state law, Senate Bill 222, may bolster his case.
The new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, will make it illegal to deny someone housing because of their military or veteran status.
“What the HOA is doing is not only outrageous and unpatriotic,” Zurawski said. “It’s now illegal.”
However, it was not clear whether the new law will apply to this case.
“SB 222 clearly states that people in the military are now a protected class,” he argued. “As a protected class they have a right to obtain and hold their housing. They are not able to hold their housing if they are being shown the curb. Simple as that.”
Arrowhead said they were appalled that Zurawski was making these claims.
"Nothing could be further from the truth. Frankly, Arrowood’s Board, a majority of which are retired servicemembers themselves, is appalled by Mr. Zurawski’s false narrative," the HOA said.
In the civil suit against Zurawski, attorneys for the HOA did not mention the renters’ military status, just that Zurawski violated the subdivision’s single-family use rules.
Arrowhead released a statement to NBC 7 that read in part: "Mr. Zurawski rents individual rooms within each of his properties to as many people, of any type of background, as he can fit. The condition of his properties is squalid and the tenant turnover rate is high. Arrowood has received numerous complaints from neighbors, as well as Mr. Zurawski’s tenants themselves, regarding the unsafe condition of his properties and the effect his dormitory-style leasing practice is having on our community. The CC&Rs require a home be rented as a “Single Family Residence” to specifically prevent overcrowded and unsafe conditions within the homes of our community.
Josue Valerio, a U.S. Marine who finished his service two years ago, said he would likely be living out of his car if his friend had not introduced him to Zurawski.
“I know a couple other people in similar situations. It happens a lot. The rent over here is kind of ridiculous," Valerio said.
“If you don’t have the first and last month’s rent - an extra $2,000 you can’t come up with - it’s hard to find a spot,” says Valerio.
Andrew Smith, a Marine Reserve who has leased a room from Zurawski for 6 years, said the legal battle between his landlord Zurawski and the HOA weighs on the tenants.
“It’s stressful you know, thinking that could happen soon,” Smith added.
Another homeowner in the Arrowood community, Bill Smith, said doesn’t want to see the veteran renters lose their housing, but he supports the HOA’s side. Smith said this situation has nothing to do with the renters’ military service.
“It’s not unpatriotic to be against somebody using single-family residence for making money,” Smith said. “For turning it into an apartment complex. It’s just not right, and it shouldn’t be done in this area.”
Arrowood’s property management accuses Zurawski of taking advantage of the military community.
"Mr. Zurawski is not a resident of Arrowood. He is simply using the community for his own financial gain, at the expense of Arrowood’s residents, including his own tenants. Arrowood does not discriminate against our servicemembers. We honor, and cherish them. They are our community," the HOA said.
One element of this argument stems back to the knowledge that Zurawski once rented to a Marine veteran who was getting out of prison after serving time for a sexual offense, NBC 7 reported in 2018.
Zurawski previously told NBC 7 that he knew the former marine was a sexual offender, but the man's parole officer told Zurawski that the man was not a "predator."
Zurawski said one neighbor found out about it on Megan's Law, and "that's when things exploded." Zurawski said the Marine veteran stayed in the house for only a few days longer and then left when asked.
Zurawski previously told NBC 7 he believed the HOA was using the CC&Rs to get the Marines out of the houses.
In 2018, he said he was sorry he ever rented to the Marine veteran who was getting out of prison, because "I am now about to lose two houses, and 12 marines are going to be punished as well."