FOURTH STREET ‚Äî An owner and manager of a 60-unit apartment complex in Santa Monica accused of harassing tenants agreed to stop allegedly abusive behaviors or risk reopening an investigation, the City Attorney‚Äôs Office announced Thursday.
The settlement requires owner M West Holdings, LLC., and property manager Scott Properties Group, Inc. to rescind restrictive new rules and exorbitant lost key fees and create better paths for communication between representatives and tenants regarding construction and tenant complaints, said Eda Suh, a deputy city attorney with City Hall.
The City Attorney‚Äôs Office will monitor the companies for a year to ensure that they stick to the settlement agreement. If they violate it in any material way, “there will be consequences,” Suh said.
If not, all 32 tenant complaints lodged against the companies will be dismissed.
“Even at this point, we‚Äôve come to a resolution that both have agreed to what the rules are, but they‚Äôre going to have to show it to us and prove it,” Suh said.
Tenants went to the City Attorney‚Äôs Office in the fall of 2012 with a list of concerns about alleged abuses at the property, located at 3111 Fourth St. Many of the complaints rose out of a document called “House Rules and Regulations,” which was handed out to tenants in September 2012.
The new rules required a $250 charge for a replacement key, limited hours of access to laundry facilities and prohibited storage of items on decks and patios.
Tenants also said that the owner and manager made it more difficult for tenants to pay their rent by ending a long-standing practice of paying on-site and failed to properly oversee construction at the property, leading to parking, security and other problems for tenants.
It took three mediation sessions with Suh and a mediator to address the issues. Ultimately, Scott Properties Group and M West Holdings agreed to take back some of the more problematic house rules and hire an on-site construction manager to serve as a liaison for tenants.
It also requires a plan filed with the Building and Safety Division for all remaining construction work and that the companies give tenants notice before entering their apartments to do repairs.
Finally, tenants will get a drop-box location to pay rent and a strict protocol for responding to tenant complaints where tenants put their concerns in writing and the company responds with a plan to resolve the problem within 48 hours, Suh said.
Tenants were not asked to compromise under the agreement.
“We were looking at the problematic behavior of the owner and manager,” Suh said.
Scott Brody, of Scott Properties Group, said that he was happy to have the conflict with the tenants resolved.
“My job is to run the building the best that we can,” Brody said.
Some of the changes that offended tenants were alterations in policy from the previous landlord, who had owned the building for many years.
When Scott Properties Group took over management of the site, some of those practices changed, which discomfited some tenants, Brody said.
“We all got through it,” Brody said.
The fight may not yet be over, however.
The settlement agreement only covers the complaints that were common to all tenants. Individual issues, like claims that the new owner was trying to enforce rules regarding pets and roommates that the previous owner had waived, are still on the table, Suh said.