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Santa Monica Files First Tenant Harassment Lawsuit Alleging Landlord Targeted Roommates
By Jorge Casuso
July 17, 2017 -- The Santa Monica City Attorney's Office last week filed its first lawsuit claiming a landlord harassed tenants by forcing existing roommates who were not on the lease to vacate, officials said.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Santa Monica Superior Court against Ante Trinidad and the Adel Luzuriaga Trust, the owners of a nine-unit rent-controlled building doing business as SanMo17 Property.
The suit alleges that after buying the building last July, the landlord "immediately targeted three long-term, below-market-rent tenants with harassment tactics" that were "fraudulent and coercive," according to the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division.
The tactics included "improperly refusing to allow the tenants to get other roommates" and "conducting bogus and intrusive 'inspections' of tenants’ units."
One of the tenants was "coerced" into vacating the unit he shared with his longtime partner and their three children with permission from the previous owner, the lawsuit alleges.
"Rather than break up the family, the tenant had to leave Santa Monica to find housing in Inglewood," the City Attorneys office said.
The landlord also coerced the roommate of another tenant into leaving his two-bedroom apartment, then rejected the three potential roommates who applied to share the unit, the lawsuit alleges.
Under the lease, the landlord must approve a new roommate, said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. Rejecting potential roommates "makes it harder for the tenant to pay the rent."
The tenant "still doesn't have a roommate," Rhoades said.
Trinidad did not respond to requests for comment.
Although there is no roommate provision in Santa Monica's tenant harassment law, the landlord's actions were intended to force the tenants to vacate the units in order to raise the rents to market rates, Rhoades said.
Some tenants who have had their roommates evicted have taken their case to the City's Rent Control Board and have successfully received rent reductions, Rhoades said.
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