FOURTH STREET — Santa Monica’s City Attorney’s Office has put on ice an investigation into tenant harassment claims at a local apartment building until the owner, property manager and tenants can meet with a mediator, according to a document released to the Daily Press.
If, however, nothing comes out of the mediation by Jan. 31, the investigation will resume and with a lot of help from tenants who have approached both the Daily Press and the City Attorney’s Office with their concerns in recent months.
According to a letter from Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh to the property owner and manager, the City Attorney’s Office has received 12 individual complaints from tenants at the property at 3111 Fourth St. and three complaint packets collectively signed by 25 of the tenants living at the building.
Those complaints have covered what tenants describe as “unreasonably restrictive new policies,” as well as a failure to supervise construction going on to upgrade and remodel vacant units.
More complaints are on the way, with another batch turned in this week, said Lizette Alvarado, a 15-year tenant of the property who described the situation at the building as “absolute mayhem.”
“I feel like the only power I have is to get (other tenants’) complaints to the city attorneys and go to the owners,” Alvarado said.
Neither the owner of the building, M West Holdings, nor the property manager, Scott Properties Group LLC, responded to requests for comment for the article.
M West Holdings bought the property in July.
Many of the tenants’ complaints stem from a document called the “House Rules and Regulations,” which was allegedly handed out to tenants in September.
That document stated that tenants were unable to store items on their decks and patios, that they were legally prohibited from smoking in their apartments and that the company could impose changes in the terms of the lease, according to the letter.
“As far as we are aware, none of the complaining tenants have signed the House Rules and therefore the new house rules are not enforceable as to the complaining tenants,” Suh wrote in the letter.
Tenants also allege that the property manager began making their lives difficult by putting in place new policies with which they could not easily comply.
According to the letter and conversations with tenants, they were asked to pick up new keys from an off-site property management office, and were told that replacements for the new keys would cost $250.
Many tenants lack transportation or are disabled, tenants say.
Methods by which rent could be paid also changed, as well as the dates.
Ben Parker, an eight-year resident at the building, used to pay his rent on the fifth of each month. He went on a trip to Santa Barbara and came back in July, after M West Holdings bought the property, to find that the date had changed. Rent was now due on the first of each month.
What really bothered Parker, however, was the construction.
Vacant apartments were being remodeled, he said, turning the building into a construction zone from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
As an aspiring screenwriter, Parker had difficulty working at home during the day.
“It’s a terrible working environment,” he said. “I write almost solely at night, or go to the library or somewhere else.”
Tenants also called the South Coast Air Quality Management District to raise concerns about asbestos, although officials reported that they did not see anything wrong in the inspections.
Inspectors did bring samples back for testing, said Sam Atwood, spokesperson for the AQMD.
In the letter, Suh advised that the City Attorney’s Office would put further investigation into the complaints on hold until all parties — M West Holdings, Scott Properties and the complaining tenants — agree to mediate in good faith.
“All aspects of the mediation, including the final signing of the letter agreement, must be completed no later than Jan. 31, 2013,” Suh wrote. “If the parties are not able to successfully mediate the issues by that date, our office’s tenant harassment investigation will resume.”
The parties have until Dec. 26 to accept the offer for mediation.