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Santa Monica, Building Owner Settle Harassment Complaints

Santa Monica Real Estate Company, Roque and Mark


Rusty's Surf

Harding Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP  law firm
Harding, Larmore Kutcher & Kozal, LLP

By Jorge Casuso

July 19, 2013 -- The owner and manger of a 60-unit apartment complex several blocks from Santa Monica Beach reached a settlement agreement with the City resolving 32 harassment complaints filed by tenants, the City Attorneys Office announced Thursday.

The complaints were filed after West Holdings, LLC, bought the Ocean Park property at 3111 Fourth Street near the Venice border in July 2012 and hired Scott Properties Group, Inc. to manage the building, City officials said.

“Tenants claimed that M West and Scott engaged in a pattern of harassment designed to empty the building of rent-controlled tenants so they could remodel and re-rent the units at much higher rents,” said Eda Suh, Deputy City Attorney with the Consumer Protection Unit.

Rents at the rent-controlled property range widely -- with some tenants paying more than triple what others pay -- due to a State law that went into full effect in 1999 allowing owners to raise the rents on most vacated units to market rates.

Currently, 20 tenants pay less than $1,500, with three units fetching rents as low as $1,127, according to Rent Control Board records. Three units rent for more than $3,000, with the highest going for $3,750.

The tenants alleged that the owner and manager imposed “unfair new house rules and unilaterally changed lease terms,” Suh said.

The changes included “charging $250 for replacement keys, limiting hours of access to laundry facilities, and prohibiting storage of items on decks and patios,” officals said.

Tenants also alleged that the new owner and manager no longer accepted rent checks on the premises and failed to oversee construction at the property, “leading to parking, security and other problems for tenants,” Suh said.

The owner and manager could not be reached by deadline.

Under the settlement agreement, M West agreed to rescind the most problematic new house rules, to hire an onsite construction manager to serve as liaison with tenants and to give tenants the required prior notice before entering their apartments, officials said.

They also agreed to file a "Means and Methods" plan with the City's Building and Safety Division, which will be given to tenants, detailing how the work will impact occupied units, officials said

In addition, the onsite manager must “accompany construction staff in and out of apartment units and periodically check up on staff working inside units,” Suh said.

Under the agreement, tenants can pay rent at a secured drop-box at the building.

"New owners of residential buildings have the right to make improvements, but they also need to comply with our laws, including the Tenant Harassment Ordinance," Suh said.

The City will continue to monitor compliance with the settlement agreement for a year, and tenants can still pursue individual complaints, officials said.

Such complaints could include efforts by the owner to “enforce defunct pet and roommate rules that the prior owner had waived,” Suh said.

The settlement was reached after three mediation sessions between the City Attorneys office and the owners and their attorneys, according to officials.

"This is a good and fair result," Suh said. "We appreciate the owner and the tenants working with us to resolve this difficult case.

“We got results much faster than if we had been forced to pursue litigation against the owner," Suh said.

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