DOWNTOWN — The owner of a series of conveniently located and high-end apartment buildings in Santa Monica is the subject of a federal lawsuit that raises allegations of discrimination and violations of fair housing laws.
Santa Monica Collection and Malibu-based Christina Development Corp. are accused of discriminating against 70-year-old Nadia Fino by refusing to accept a Section 8 housing voucher that she claims was necessary to pay for her unit of 23 years when she became unable to work because of a disability.
The lawsuit was filed Oct. 13 in the United States District Court Central District of California by the Southern California Housing Rights Center and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, which are representing Fino.
They are asking the court for an injunction to halt the plaintiff’s eviction, order the defendants to accept the housing vouchers and award compensatory, statutory and punitive damages to Fino. The plaintiff is also seeking the defendants to allow a second tenant in her unit as a live-in aide.
“I’ve completely exhausted my savings at this point,” Fino said in a statement. “How am I supposed to continue to pay my rent on disability benefits alone?”
Representatives for the two companies could not be reached for comment.
Fino has lived in a two-bedroom unit at 1251 14th St. since 1986, a building which the Santa Monica Collection owns and the Christina Development Corp. manages. She currently relies on Social Security disability and Supplemental Security Income benefits.
While the plaintiff paid her rent through income from jobs in real estate, public relations and film and television, she was permanently sidelined in 2004 following a car accident, bounding her to a wheelchair.
Fino continued to pay her rent using disability income and savings but exhausted those resources in June 2008, when she applied for the Santa Monica Housing Authority to participate in Section 8, a federal Housing and Urban Development program that subsidizes rental living expenses for very-low income residents.
According to the lawsuit, she soon became eligible to receive federal housing assistance but the defendants allegedly denied the voucher. As a result, she struggled to pay her rent February through July of this year and received a “3-day notice to pay rent or move out.”
The lawsuit also states that the plaintiff last month attempted to remit the August rent but the defendants refused to accept it without a payment for September, giving her until the 20th of that month to pay. The defendants later agreed to accept payment directly from the Santa Monica Redevelopment Agency to cover the rent in full for August, September and October, the lawsuit states.
The complaint also quotes local attorney Kevin Kozal, who represented the Santa Monica Collection in the voucher issue, as stating that the company has a policy of not participating in the Section 8 program.
Julie Lansing, the housing administrator for City Hall, said that landlords voluntarily participate in the program in which the Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidizes the rent for low-income tenants through the Housing Authority, which distributes the checks to property owners.
Units must be at or below $1,352 for a one-bedroom or $1,843 for a two-bedroom to qualify. The Housing Authority determines what the tenant’s share of the rent will be based on their total household income.
“It’s pretty popular with the owners,” Lansing said. “On the first of the month, they can count on a subsidy.”
Denise McGranahan of the Legal Aid Foundation, said the defendants discriminated against Fino because they refused to make a reasonable accommodation to a person with disabilities.
“We are asking that the landlord make a single exception to an otherwise voluntary rule,” she said. “We’re not asking the landlord to take everyone as Section 8, just asking Nadia’s Section 8 voucher as reasonable accommodation to her disability.”