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Low-Income Santa Monica Tenants Win $1 Million Settlement
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 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.
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.
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.
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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