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Date:         October 1, 2001
Contact:   Adam Radinsky, Deputy City Attorney
                  Consumer Protection Unit, 458-8336


Donald Sterling, who owns numerous apartment buildings in Santa Monica and throughout Southern California, recently agreed to a settlement with the City of Santa Monica in the wake of allegations that he and his representatives harassed tenants in rent-controlled apartments in Santa Monica.

In October 2000, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office received sworn complaints from eight tenants at three different Santa Monica apartment buildings owned or controlled by Sterling. Each tenant alleged that Sterling, through his attorneys, managers, and in one instance himself, had harassed the tenants and tried to intimidate them into vacating their rent-controlled apartments.

Santa Monica enacted its Tenant Harassment Ordinance in 1995 to protect rent-controlled tenants from harassment by owners seeking to drive them out to take advantage of new statewide vacancy-decontrol laws. As of January 1999, under the state law, apartment owners in Santa Monica can charge market rates on all vacant apartments.

The tenants alleged that Sterling, through his agents, did the following:

• wrote threatening letters to four of the tenants, falsely accusing them of causing up to $100,000 in structural damage by having potted plants on their balconies, and falsely stating that their tenancies had been terminated;

• tried to evict a tenant for replacing a damaged lock on his front door, after telling him to change the lock himself;

• wrote a threatening letter to a tenant falsely claiming that she had not paid rent and that her tenancy was terminated; and

• entered tenants’ apartments without prior notice, for no valid reason, and harassed them

The City Attorney’s Office investigated the complaints and ultimately reached a settlement with Sterling’s attorneys. Under the settlement, Sterling has agreed to the following terms:

• He will pay $25,000 to the City. (A portion of this money will go to the eight tenants and a portion will be kept by the City for future consumer-protection and educational measures.)

• He will send a written notice to all of his tenants living in the City of Santa Monica, advising them of the legal limitations on a landlord’s right to enter their apartments. (Under state law, landlords may only enter apartments to make repairs, to show the apartment to a prospective buyer, or in case of emergency. They must also give 24-hour advance notice.)

• Until January 2003, if future harassment violations are proved against Sterling, the fines will be increased from $1,000 to $2,500 for each violation.

• In the event future violations are proved, he will pay the City’s investigative costs.

• He will have resident managers at all of his Santa Monica apartment buildings with 16 or more units.



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