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Santa Monica Landlord Settles Tenant Harassment Lawsuit Filed by City

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By Jorge Casuso

July 20, 2022 -- A Santa Monica landlord who allegedly tried to wrongfully evict a family from their rent controlled apartment has agreed to pay $65,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by the City.

According to the City Attorney's Office, the landlord used "fraudulent and coercive tactics" in an effort to force the tenants to leave after they asked for repairs and maintenance work.

The lawsuit filed in April alleges that the landlord -- Ross Vaisburd, Rolana Serebryanaya and related legal entities -- made the requested repairs and remodeled the unit "only after the tenants vacated."

They then listed the unit "for a much higher rent," according to a press release issued by the City Attorney’s Office on Wednesday.

“Protecting tenants’ rights is a fundamental part of what we do,” said City Attorney Douglas Sloan.

“We expect both landlords and tenants to play by the rules, and when landlords abuse their position, the City’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance ensures accountability,” Sloan said.

The lawsuit alleges the landlord "used delay tactics in responding to tenants’ repeated requests for repairs," according to the City Attorney's Office.

The tenant's requests included addressing the "lack of hot water, black wastewater in the bathroom, broken outside lighting, and a fly infestation," the City claimed.

"When tenants sought to correct a rent payment issue, the property manager told them to wait to pay and refused to answer questions about how to pay," according to the press release.

"The landlord then brought an eviction lawsuit without providing the legally required eviction notice" and refused to provide contact information so the tenants could reach them, the lawsuit alleges.

The stipulated judgment, signed by the parties and approved by Judge H. Jay Ford, III, includes terms and requirements for the defendants Ross Vaisburd, Empresa Real Alta California LLC, 848 18th Street LLC, Rolana Serebryanaya and Rolana Serebryanaya’s Trust.

In addition to paying $65,000 to the City for tenants’ restitution and the City’s costs and fees, the defendants must attend property management training in 2022 and 2023.

They also must report all eviction notices and lawsuits in Santa Monica to the City Attorney’s Office for one year and provide City-approved disclosures meeting state law requirements to all tenants in Santa Monica properties.

In agreeing to the stipulated judgment, the defendants did not admit to any wrongdoing.

The defendants' attorney, Thomas S. Gelini, declined the Lookout's request to comment on the settlement.

It is not the first time defendant Vaisburd settles a tenant harassment lawsuit filed by the City ("Two Landlords Settle Tenant Harassment Case," May 29, 2001).

In 2001, Vaisburd and Daniel Smith of Cabinda, LLC. agreed to pay the City $20,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging they repeatedly harassed a tenant living in a $598 a month rent-controlled apartment on Sixth Street to force him out.

The City's most recent lawsuit lists 848 18th Street LLC as one of the defendants.

According to Rent Control Board records, rents at the seven-unit apartment building at that address range from $1,550 to $4,000 per month.

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