ERIC HILTON, the only Seattle landlord ever jailed for retaliating against a tenant, has made a career of hiding his assets and eluding his creditors, according to tenant advocates. But the notorious landlord, who owes the city of Seattle $76,000, may soon have more than a two-night stay in the slammer to contend with.
Hilton, who filed for bankruptcy last December, may be forced to produce bank statements and tax returns for the past three years, documents that could reveal how much money he really has and where he keeps it. In his bankruptcy petition, the landlord claims to have no assets, no income, and no residence, a claim he can make, in part, because his properties are all "owned" by various limited partnerships, not Hilton. But Denice Moewes, attorney for the govern-ment trustee charged with distributing Hilton's assets, says she knows of at least one business, Del Ray Associates, in which Hilton has a financial interest. Seizing the company, valued at nearly $2 million, would give the court enough cash to pay Hilton's debt to the city as well as $2,000 he owes local architect Art Skolnik, whose son, Joshua, was forced to move from a Hilton property when the city deemed it unfit for habitation.
So far, Hilton has been far from a model debtor. He has failed to show up for a single court appearance, including his own bankruptcy proceedings. He did call the court during a recent creditors' meeting, but only to say that he couldn't make it and was dismissing his bankruptcy case. But it's too late for that, Moewes says. "Once you file for bankruptcy, you can't dismiss your case if you lie on your filings," she notes. In court documents, Moewes says Hilton's bankruptcy petition was "false" because it failed to list his ownership interests in several limited partnerships. "He thinks he's going to escape and the city of Seattle is not going to do anything and he just gets to keep owning his property; that's not how it works," Moewes says.
Since Skolnik's son moved from Hilton's Wallingford boarding house last spring, Skolnik says he's discovered that other tenants gave Hilton their rent in cash. Skolnik believes that may explain why his own checks were returned uncashed: Hilton, he speculates, "could have been pocketing that cash and living off it" without reporting it to the IRS. If that's true, Moewes says, "it would mean that there's a potential claim by the IRS for unreported income." Sorting that out, the attorney adds, could be a long and arduous process.
Hilton could not be reached for comment.
Erica C. Barnett