July 18, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Eda Suh, Deputy City Attorney, Consumer Protection Unit (310-458-8348)
City, Apartment Owner Reach Pact On Harassment Complaints
The Santa Monica City Attorney's Office has finalized a settlement agreement with the owner and manager of the 60-unit apartment building located at 3111 Fourth Street in Santa Monica. The agreement resolves some 32 harassment complaints filed by tenants at the building.
The tenants' complaints arose after a new owner, M West Holdings, LLC, bought the property in July 2012 and hired Scott Properties Group, Inc. to manage the building. 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.
Specifically, the tenants alleged that the owner and manager:
- Imposed unfair new house rules and unilaterally changed lease terms, including charging $250 for replacement keys, limiting hours of access to laundry facilities, and prohibiting storage of items on decks and patios
- Intentionally made it more difficult to pay rent by discontinuing the practice of allowing tenants to pay rent onsite
- Failed to oversee construction at the property, leading to parking, security and other problems for tenants
- Refused to respond to tenant questions and complaints
Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh conducted a three-session mediation with the owners and their attorneys, using the Center for Civic Mediation. Under the resulting agreement, M West agreed to:
- Rescind the most problematic new house rules;
- Hire an onsite construction manager who will serve as liaison with tenants;
- File a "Means and Methods" plan with the City's Building and Safety Division for all outstanding work. This plan will detail how the work will impact the habitability of occupied units and will be given to tenants;
- Ensure strict compliance by staff and workers with Civil Code section 1954 which requires prior notice to tenants of any entries into apartments;
- Ensure that the onsite manager will accompany construction staff in and out of apartment units and periodically check up on staff working inside units;
- Follow a strict protocol for responding to tenant complaints; and
- Ensure that all tenants may use the same methods for paying rent including use of a secured drop-box at the building
"This is a good and fair result," said Suh. "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."
Tenants are still able to pursue individual complaints that did not affect the whole property, such as claims that the new owner was attempting to enforce defunct pet and roommate rules that the prior owner had waived.
Other City departments have also worked to resolve problems at the property. The City's Code Compliance Division is addressing repair and code compliance issues. Rent Control staff is hearing rent decrease petitions based on the new owner taking away amenities.
"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," said Suh.
The City will continue to monitor M West's and Scott Properties' compliance with the agreement for a period of twelve months.