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Landlords Who Refused Rent Check Settle Harassment Suit

By Lookout Staff

Dec. 7 -- Two landlords who allegedly refused to accept rent checks from a tenant agreed to pay the City $6,371 to settle a tenant harassment lawsuit, the City Attorneys office announced Friday.

Mary Brittany Stevenson and Anthony T. Wells, the owners of a rent-control apartment building in Santa Monica, were charged with violations of the Tenant Harassment Ordinance.

The tenant had alleged in a sworn complaint that in August 2001, shortly after Stevenson and Wells became the new legal owners of the building, Stevenson sent back the August rent check and requested a new one made out to her.

When the tenant mailed Stevenson the new check by certified mail, Stevenson refused to sign for the envelope, even after being notified by the tenant of its contents, the City Attorneys Office said.

Instead of accepting the August rent, Stevenson served the tenant with a three-day notice for non-payment of rent. The tenant promptly responded by telephone and by certified mail, explaining that she had paid her August rent -- which was $758 -- by certified mail. Nonetheless, Stevenson filed an unlawful detainer lawsuit against the tenant.

Stevenson lost the trial and a subsequent appeal. The City Attorney's Office filed the civil lawsuit earlier this year.

"The owners violated the law and they had no reasonable explanation of their conduct," said Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh.

Under the terms of the settlement -- which includes the money that will go to reimburse the tenant for her legal costs -- the landlords would face fines of $2,500, instead of the usual $1,000 for any future harassment violations. The owners would also have to pay the City's investigative costs.
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