City Sues Landlords for Fraudulently Trying to Evict Rent-Controlled Tenants During Pandemic
February 3, 2021 10:47 AM
Last week the City Attorney’s Office, Public Rights Division, filed a lawsuit against local landlords for violations of the City’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance and eviction moratorium. According to the complaint, starting in 2017 when the defendants purchased the 30-unit apartment building, the defendants have “engaged in a campaign to empty out the building of long-term tenants.” Santa Monica Rent Control Board records indicated that twenty-three of the thirty units were vacant at the time the complaint was filed. The City further alleges the defendants engaged in unlawful behavior towards five of the last-remaining tenants, including fraud, intimidation, and attempted evictions without justification.
The named defendants, Youseph Golshirazian, Hanokh Golshirazian, and SoCal Investment Company, LLC, own and manage the multi-residential property located at 153 San Vicente Boulevard in Santa Monica. The complaint alleges that in August 2020 the defendants informed five rent-controlled tenants that the City had approved the plans for major repairs and all that remains is for Rent Control to approve the temporary relocation plans for the tenants; the defendants asked the tenants to sign a temporary move out agreement and assured them that they could move back into their units once the work was done. In another letter, the defendants indicated that once the repair work starts, the building would be uninhabitable, and refusal to temporarily relocate would constitute a nuisance.
Attorneys from the Santa Monica Rent Control Board and the City wrote to the defendants indicating that their letters contained multiple false and misleading statements, and that the proposed remodeling plans had not been approved, nor were the tenants required by law or any City order to be temporarily relocated.
The five tenants refused to temporarily relocate, for fear that the landlord may not allow them to move back in after the work is completed, and due to COVID-19 public health concerns. In November during a COVID-19 pandemic surge, the defendants filed unlawful detainer actions against the five tenants, based on their refusal to temporarily relocate for work that had not been permitted. In December the tenants went to court to fight the evictions with legal aid attorneys from LAFLA-Santa Monica. The defendants dropped the eviction actions, only to then serve the tenants with a new Three-Day Notice to Quit.
According to the complaint, at the time the complaint was filed the City had not approved the proposed construction work at the building, and at least two of the vacant units were listed on Airbnb.com as vacation rentals. Furthermore, the complaint contends that the property was advertised for sale on Loopnet.com, where it stated that “[o]nly five units are currently occupied and Seller is in the process of completing the buy-outs.”
The five tenants who have alleged harassment have lived in their rent-controlled apartments for between four and fifteen years, and include a family with two minor children, and a couple who are both senior citizens over 70 years old. One tenant tested positive and was symptomatic for COVID-19 in December 2020. All five households pay rent significantly less than rents reported to Rent Control for the other units in the building.
“It is always illegal for landlords to harass or otherwise threaten tenants’ housing security with false or misleading statements. It is even worse when that happens during the middle of a public health and economic crisis,” said George Cardona, Interim City Attorney. “The City will take all appropriate enforcement actions against landlords who violate the City’s tenant protection laws, and help tenants stay housed in their homes.”