“I’m not sure Ariana quite understands the concept of putting your house up as collateral. If they default on their loan then the bank never goes and takes half the house back. It’s like ‘Ariana, you stay in bed, we only want Tom’s half’. It doesn’t work like that”
The confected onscreen drama of reality TV show Vanderpump Rules has recently experienced a very real-life scandal, playing out over social media, celebrity gossip websites and a tranche of podcasts.
It follows the revelation that cast members Tom Sandoval and Raquel Leviss have for several months been conducting a covert affair under the noses of not only Sandoval’s long term partner Ariana Maddox, but a working TV production crew.
With cameras being picked up again, episodes being quickly reviewed and re-edited to incorporate this unexpected plot twist, and temporary restraining orders being hurled between the cast, a host of legal matters have also been thrown into frame.
Vanderpump Rules, part of the Extended Bravo Multiverse, is currently broadcasting its 10th season on Binge and Hayu in Australia. It features a hodgepodge mix of couples and singles aged in their mid 20s to early 40s living and working within the orbit of Real Housewives alum Lisa Vanderpump and her clutch of bars and restaurants.
A quick primer of the relationships can be found here, if you’re just catching up.
In addition to their recording obligations, the cast are also tethered together in an intricate web of property ownership and business ventures, some of which may now be at risk as a result of this recently revealed infidelity.
According the The Bravo Docket, a podcast by two practicing solicitors, there are three key legal issues we should care about.
A House in The Valley
In February 2021, (now former) long term couple Sandoval and Maddox purchased a US$2.6 million home in the San Fernando Valley, with both named as co-owners and joint tenants on the publicly listed deeds of the property.
In July 2021, Sandoval took out a home equity loan of US$235,000 using the house as collateral, to assist in financing Schwartz and Sandy’s, a bar he co-owns with another cast member, Tom Schwartz (along with a number of other investors). Maddox does not hold any financial interest in the bar.
On an episode of Vanderpump Rules airing on October 5, 2021, Maddox claimed that “this loan is only in Tom’s name, for his portion of the property … [the loan is] only against his own equity, it doesn’t affect me at all [if he defaults]”.
Castmate Lisa Vanderpump responds with “What do you mean it’s only against his equity?”, later sharing in a direct-to-camera confessional: “I’m not sure Ariana quite understands the concept of putting your house up as collateral. If they default on their loan, then the bank never goes and takes half the house back. It’s like ‘Ariana, you stay in bed, we only want Tom’s half. It doesn’t work like that.”
Unfortunately for Maddox, Vanderpump is right. Under Californian law as joint tenants, with both of their names listed as co-owners on the deed, Maddox is as liable as Sandoval for the equity loan on the property, meaning the bank can order for her home to be sold for the purposes of debt recovery.
With reports that Schwartz and Sandy’s is experiencing significantly reduced patronage due to real life viewer backlash against its owners, this could prove to be a costly misunderstanding for Maddox.
The bar in a strip mall
Opening in November 2022, the bar Schwartz and Sandy’s is located at 1917 North Bronson Ave in Los Angeles, with the commercial lease to the property held by Greg Morris (shown frequently on camera), and his partner Jolane Rae via an LLC called Victor Square.
From the show, we have learned that in addition to the US$235,000 loan that Sandoval took out against the San Fernando property he co-owns with Maddox, he was gifted US$250,000 from his parents to invest in the bar.
It’s unknown at this point how much the other Tom (Schwartz) has invested into the business. However, it was revealed on camera in season 9 of Vanderpump Rules that Schwartz applied for, but was subsequently denied, a personal bank loan for the venture.
The co-owner, Greg Morris is a well-established local restaurateur, with several operations under his belt such as The Belmont Lounge, Oak Fire Pizzeria, and Franklin & Company Local Tavern.
“When it comes to this group, I can predict the future like Gandhi. Did Gandhi predict the future? Who is Gandhi?”
As the holder of the commercial lease as well as the liquor licence, Morris is in a unique position of leverage within this business arrangement. The Tom’s have revealed this season that not only are they paying the rent of “$25,000 per month”, but that they have covered the expenses for all the re-fitting and re-furnishing of the space prior to the opening of the bar.
According to The Bravo Docket podcast, the lease reveals that improvements to the property belong to the owner of the commercial property – not the lease holder Morris, and certainly not to the Tom’s who have at a minimum invested close to half a million US dollars into the endeavour so far. The items under question here include items attached to floors, ceilings and walls (such as artworks and wall papers), bars, tables and booths, bathroom fittings and fixtures and improvements to the kitchen areas.
If the bar fails, the business owners will have to walk from the property – and the bulk of their investment in the fittings and fixtures will be forfeited to the owner of the premises.
The Tom’s will unlikely recoup any costs from a potential strip out and resell of the furniture, bar, artworks or light fittings – a significant financial setback that could impact Sandoval’s ability to service the home equity loan against the property he co-owns with Maddox.
The profit share, ownership, and business arrangements between the Tom’s, Morris and Rae has not yet been publicly revealed.
Two birds, one restraining order, and a whole bunch of cease and desist letters
The affair between the castmates was allegedly uncovered on March 2, after Maddox discovered a recorded FaceTime call between Sandoval and Leviss on Sandoval’s phone. The recording, according to several sources, is sexually intimate in nature.
Having seen the video, Maddox is believed to have forwarded the digital file to herself, and then sent the video to Leviss from her phone as a way of confronting her about the clandestine relationship.
Recording an episode of “Watch what Happens Live” in New York City with castmate Shaena Shay when the message from Maddox came though – Leviss is said to have confessed to the affair immediately, revealing to Shay later on that evening the length of the relationship with Sandoval.
What happens next is a source of contention, resulting in Shay facing legal action.
Two days after the phone call and confession to Shay, on March 4, Leviss reports to emergency care with facial injuries, and on March 7, her lawyers apply for – and are granted – a temporary restraining order against Scheana.
In the petition, Leviss alleges that after the affair was revealed, Shay had “pushed [her] against a brick wall, causing injury to back of head and punched me in the face causing injury to my left eye.”
Going on to explain the need for a restraining order, Levis alleges “mutual friends and co-workers are telling me that [Shay] doesn’t regret the physical attack on me and would do it again”.
Knowing that Maddox was in possession of the FaceTime recording digital file, on the same day, March 7, a number of the cast are issued a cease-and-desist order.
“This case is a fabrication by a known liar and a cheat who has betrayed everyone close to her. Scheana never punched [Raquel], period. She’s created a mess for herself, her friends and the show”
TMZ reports that Leviss’ lawyers assert that the recording of the intimate FaceTime session “was done illegally without Raquel’s knowledge or consent” and refer to revenge porn laws embedded in the California penal code outlawing “non-consensual pornography” … which make it a crime to disseminate such material.
This means that any distribution of the recording – whether posted on social media or forwarded to another person – would be a penal code violation. The lawyers then go on to warn the cast members to promptly delete the recording from their phones, cloud-based storage or “any other manner or method in which the recording may exist.”
But what happens now?
There are a few immediate practical concerns that will affect production in the coming weeks.
The temporary restraining order issued by the Los Angeles Superior Court currently prohibits Shay being within 100 yards (90 metres) of Leviss, meaning that the reunion show scheduled for filming on March 23 will need to be significantly retooled to allow both cast members to participate.
Filming almost a week before the case is heard on March 29, it is speculated the production team will have to Zoom in one or both to the recording. However, Shay may not communicate with Leviss either directly or through an intermediary.
According to TMZ, Shay’s attorney, Neama Rahmani claims: “This case is a fabrication by a known liar and a cheat who has betrayed everyone close to her. Scheana never punched [Raquel], period. She’s created a mess for herself, her friends and the show”.
The future of Sandoval and Leviss on the show remains unclear. Whilst it’s unlikely that they have signed morality clauses that invalidate their contracts with Bravo TV, if the temporary restraining order against Shay becomes permanent after March 29, producers may struggle to accommodate the filming schedules of the warring castmates.
The final words of wisdom for this tale of modern woe, as always, remain with former cast member Jax Taylor: “When it comes to this group, I can predict the future like Gandhi. Did Gandhi predict the future? Who is Gandhi?”