In its largest-ever tenant harassment settlement, the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office has reached a final agreement with local realtor Stacey Valnes and his wife Megan. The Valneses have paid a total of $200,000 to a former tenant and the City.
The Valneses own a four-unit rental property on Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica.
The City sued the Valneses in Santa Monica Superior Court in June 2007 alleging that just after purchasing the property, they induced 82-year-old tenant Winifred Goodman into vacating her longtime rent-controlled apartment on the false premise that she had to vacate due to an impending owner-occupancy. At the time Goodman vacated, there was no impending owner-occupancy at the property. Goodman, thinking that she had to leave, relocated to Simi Valley and only later learned that she had been deceived.
The lawsuit alleged that shortly after Goodman vacated her apartment, the Valneses re-rented it to a new tenant for $2,400 a month. Goodman had been paying $529 per month.
Santa Monica law prohibits landlords from inducing rent-controlled tenants to vacate their homes through “fraud, intimidation or coercion.”
Goodman later got her own attorney and filed a separate lawsuit against the Valneses. The two cases were consolidated for trial.
The case was scheduled to go to trial this month.
Under the terms of the settlement the Valneses paid Goodman $160,000. The Valneses also paid the City $40,000, to be used in its Consumer Protection fund. The fund is used to maximize voluntary compliance with state and local consumer protection and tenant protection laws in Santa Monica, by educating landlords and tenants of their rights and responsibilities.
“This case is a cautionary tale for that small group of landlords who would consider using deception or intimidation to get their tenants to leave,” said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky.