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Low-Income Santa Monica Tenants Win $1 Million Settlement

Bob Kronovetrealty
We Love Property Management Headaches!

Have Extra Room for the Holidays 2019

Santa Monica Apartments

Santa Monica College
1900 Pico Boulevard
Santa Monica, CA 90405
(310) 434-4000


By Jorge Casuso

December 17, 2019 -- Nine low-income tenants displaced after the run-down SRO apartments they lived in near the Santa Monica Pier caught fire four years ago have won a $1 million settlement, their attorneys announced Monday.

The 2016 lawsuit claims the property owner kept the 16 upstairs units at 1605 Ocean Front Walk, known as the Overlook Hotel, in an uninhabitable and unsafe condition before a fire forced the tenants to vacate, according to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Scali Rasmussen.

The defendants -- Russell No. 8 Santa Monica Properties, LLC and the company's officers, Martin, Terry and Florette Mink, and Rebecca Rakes -- then illegally tried to terminate the tenants' leases.

They also failed to pay them temporary relocation benefits required under local law, according to the suit.

The Red Cross and the City provided temporary lodgings for the displaced tenants at local motels, the attorneys said.

A press release issued at the time by the Santa Monica Fire Department states that 20 residents were displaced and three were taken to the local hospital for smoke inhalation, while SMFD housed "several of the residents."

The tenants claimed the fire was "an inevitable result of the building’s substandard electrical system" that was "one of several slum-like conditions that also included defective plumbing and fire prevention systems."

The historic 1924 building above a row of shops also had "insufficient heat (including some units with no heat at all), mold, and infestations of bedbugs and cockroaches," the plaintiff's' attorneys said.

“I lost my home of 28 years and all of my belongings in a fire that could have been prevented had the Mink family taken proper care of their building," lead plaintiff Isabel Cerneka said in a statement issued by the attorneys.

"Rather than pay temporary relocation, Marty Mink told my neighbors and me to sleep in sleeping bags on the manager’s floor.

"I am now 77 years old, and the fire took a toll on my health and the lawsuit was very stressful," Cerneka said.

Shortly after the fire, the owner of the property filed paperwork to remove the building near the original Muscle Beach from Rent Control under the State Ellis Act and began planning to repair the building, the plaintiffs' attorneys said.

Russell No. 8 claimed the Ellis notice and fire "immediately terminated the tenancies," attorneys said. The owner eventually offered permanent relocation benefits.

On December 18, 2016, the property owner received the necessary approvals to permanently remove the residential units from the rental market under the Eliis Act, according to the California Coastal Commission.

Last month, the Commission approved with conditions a proposed major remodel of the building as a "two-story visitor-serving market-like venue for local Santa Monica retailers," according to the staff report.

The defendants succeeded in delaying the trial for three-and-a-half years, said attorney John Swenson of Scali Rasmussen.

“If Russell No. 8 had simply complied with local law, its liability would have been limited to only tens of thousands in relocation benefits,” Swenson said.

“However, as the result of the dilatory tactics advised or followed by its lawyers, and the years of mistreatment of the tenants, Russell No. 8 was able to end its liability only by settling for $1 million.”

Senior Attorney Denise McGranahan of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles said the legal battle was worth fighting.

“Although it took years of litigation, we were able to get these tenants compensation for the hardships they endured," McGranahan said.

"I hope that this case will serve as a warning to landlords who consider defying laws designed to protect vulnerable tenants.”

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