DOWNTOWN — The owners of a landmarked apartment building have agreed to settle complaints filed last summer by disabled tenants who said they were harassed and had their privacy violated.
Under the agreement, which was finalized by the City Attorney’s Office, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and a private law firm, the owners of AZ Shores, a 49-unit brick building at 1305 Second St., agreed to adopt a written policy prohibiting discrimination, get fair housing training, conduct better record keeping, restore parking for disabled tenants, clarify tenants’ rights to have guests and give city officials access to security cameras to make sure they are not being used to spy on residents.
The owners and property management company, Wilshire Skyline Inc., also agreed to improve response times to requests for repairs, provide contact information in the event of an emergency (the building caught fire in April 2012), and stop paying employees a commission if they can persuade tenants to leave, give up their parking spaces or have vehicles towed.
They’ll also have to get rid of bed bugs and provide assistance to disabled tenants if they have to relocate for a time, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
There will be enhanced penalties ($2,500 instead of $1,000) for any future violations of Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment law by the owners.
Officials with Wilshire Skyline said the family-run management company took over the building in October 2012 and immediately began making repairs. New laundry facilities were installed and a security system was put in place, along with other upgrades.
“Despite Wilshire Skyline’s best intentions, four tenants expressed concerns about Wilshire Skyline’s efforts and actions during these first few months,” a statement from the company read. “It was never Wilshire Skyline’s intent to inconvenience these tenants or otherwise give them the impression that they are not welcome to stay in their homes. To the contrary, Wilshire Skyline was attempting to improve conditions at a building which had not been upgraded in many years. Wilshire Skyline was also attempting to institute a more professional property management structure.
“While Wilshire Skyline denies all of the allegations made by these four tenants, it voluntarily elected to work cooperatively … to reach an amicable resolution.”
The owners and manager entered into the agreement as a compromise and without admitting liability, fault or guilt.
Wilshire Skyline representatives said they were confident they would have prevailed if a lawsuit were filed, but felt a settlement “was more prudent from a business standpoint … .”
The City Attorney’s Office, along with Legal Aid, will continue to monitor certain provisions of the agreement for a period of 10 years.
“This is a great result for the tenants,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “It covers nearly all aspects of their tenancy. And we believe the privacy terms dealing with security cameras and guests are the first of their kind in the city and probably the county.”
Tenants, some of whom were disabled and formerly homeless, told city officials that management was harassing those on Section 8, a federal housing assistance program for low-income individuals. They also said management was using video cameras to spy on tenants instead of increase security, and would not allow tenants to have guests over.
Some said they had their parking taken away from them, the price increased threefold and then sold to the general public.
Legal Aid senior attorney Denise McGranahan said the apartment building, designated a landmark in the heart of Santa Monica, has been among the most affordable housing options for some of the most-vulnerable low-income tenants living in the city.
“The tenants [we] represented all suffered from some form of disability and were formerly homeless individuals, and had we not intervened on their behalf, they may very well have become homeless again,” said McGranahan. “They deserve to live in a safe and affordable home, close to the many services that allow them to continue to live independently. This agreement, which was entered into as a compromise, provides them a robust set of protections against arbitrary displacement.”