Appellate Court Affirms Judgment Against Chevy Chase Landlord Who Secretly Taped Female Tenants

A Montgomery County jury previously awarded one tenant $828,000


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MARYLAND JUDICIARY WEBSITE

A Maryland appellate court has upheld a judgment against a Chevy Chase landlord who used hidden cameras to spy on female tenants.

The Court of Special Appeals this month affirmed a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling against Dennis Van Dusen in 2013 on allegations that he secretly monitored and recorded one of the women. A female tenant sued Van Dusen after learning he placed hidden cameras in the bedroom she rented from him in his house on Ridgewood Avenue and videotaped her.

A Montgomery County jury awarded the woman $828,000 in damages as part of the case.

Van Dusen appealed the judgment, alleging an error in how the lower court treated a dispute over how he conveyed property rights of his house to his estranged wife. A three-judge Court of Special Appeals panel, however, affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

“Van Dusen offers no other argument as to how the rulings at issue prejudiced him, and we see none,” the Oct. 5 appellate opinion by Judge Deborah S. Eyler says.

The woman started renting a bedroom from Van Dusen in September 2009, according to a description of the case in the opinion. Several other women rented bedrooms there, too, and Van Dusen also lived there.

On Oct. 13, 2012, the woman heard from a second tenant saying that a third tenant discovered a camera hidden in the smoke detector in her bedroom. The third tenant called police to the house to investigate. The first tenant moved out the next day.

Police later called the first tenant to the police station to identify herself in videos found on computer hard drives in Van Dusen’s living quarters at the house. The videos showed her at various times—sometimes, as the court’s opinion says, during “her most private moments.”

The appellate decision says there was evidence that Van Dusen placed two hidden cameras in a smoke detector and a wall electrical socket in the woman’s bedroom. The cameras were motion-activated and recording 24 hours a day; footage was sent to a computer in Van Dusen’s office.

The opinion says Van Dusen pleaded guilty in 2013 to three counts of criminal surveillance in a private place with prurient intent for secretly recording the three tenants. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment, which was suspended, and five years of probation, plus a $2,500 fine.

A circuit judge ruled in the first tenant’s favor in 2014 in her suit alleging invasion of privacy, trespass and fraudulent conveyance, but in favor of Van Dusen on a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

A jury awarded the woman $456,288 in compensatory damages and $371,400 in punitive damages.

The conveyance accusation was connected to Van Dusen transferring partial ownership of his house to himself and his estranged wife, Irina Popova Van Dusen, shortly after the first tenant sued him. The Van Dusens had been separated for 10 years at the time of the transfer, the opinion says.

Under an arrangement known as “tenants by the entireties,” both spouses would share ownership, setting a higher bar for creditors than if just one spouse owned the property.

Irina Popova Van Dusen wasn’t aware of the transfer at first and later conveyed ownership back to Dennis Van Dusen, the opinion says.

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