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News, Santa Monica, Housing, City Attorney

Santa Monica City Attorney's Office Addresses Tenant Harassment At 3111 Fourth St

Posted Jul. 18, 2013, 8:52 am

Brenton Garen / Editor-in-Chief

Updated Sunday, June 29 - 10 am

Tenants at 3111 Fourth Street should be able to sleep easier after the Santa Monica City Attorney’s office announced Thursday it had finalized a settlement agreement regarding 32 harassment complaints filed against the owner of the 60-unit apartment 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 Properties Group 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.

[Update] M West Holdings said all 32 complaints from the tenants had been dismissed, adding the final settlement was achieved with the cooperation of the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office, M West, and Scott Properties Group.

As part of the settlement M West and Scott Properties followed a strict protocol for responding to tenant complaints by ensuring immediate communication at all times. Tenants also followed a strict protocol by putting their concerns in writing so that the company can resolve the problem within 48 hours.

“Tenants are very happy now. All sides had good points and we are glad to see that these issues were resolved amicably,” stated Scott Brody, owner of Scott Properties Group. “We now communicate very well with tenants on a regular basis, and send out emails every quarter to ensure we hear from each of our tenants. Since we began this process we have not received a negative response or complaint.”

Specifically, the tenants had 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

Santa Monica 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

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.

The City will continue to monitor M West’s and Scott Properties’ compliance with the agreement for a period of 12 months.

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