A former landlord will pay the City $30,000 to settle a tenant harassment lawsuit involving a rent controlled apartment on Ocean Avenue.
The harassment allegations involve a single rent-controlled unit owned by Sean Gharib at 757 Ocean Avenue. The same tenant, Nina Edwards, has lived in the apartment with her son since 1984 and paid $850 in rent when Sean Gharib purchased the foreclosed unit in 2015, according to Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh.
“It’s an amazing location,” Edwards said of her one bedroom apartment. “It is. We’re right on Ocean and Montana.”
“All of a sudden I was thrust into a nightmare.”
The City estimates market rent on the apartment at the time could have exceeded $2,000 a month. Gharib could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit or the settlement.
Aware her apartment was under new ownership, Edwards emailed her new landlord in 2014 asking for information on how to pay rent.
“In an email he wrote back and said, ‘I’m in the process of getting proof of ownership, so as soon as I get it I will provide it to you,’” Suh said in an interview with the Daily Press. The very next day Gharib filed eviction papers in court, accusing Edwards of not paying the rent.
“We believe she was tricked into not paying her May rent,” Suh said, adding the email chain provided valuable evidence in the City’s harassment lawsuit against Gharib, who proceeded to sue Edwards on three separate occasions for not paying rent. The City maintains Edwards would send checks to addresses provided by Gharib, only to have them mailed back to her.
“They were just so shady and it was all lies what they tried to do and they almost won. That was the scary part.” Edwards said, who would have been priced out of Santa Monica if she lost her apartment. “The whole thing was just horrendous.”
Gharib has since sold the condo and no longer owns any apartments in Santa Monica, according to the City Attorney’s office.
Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Law prohibits landlords from pursuing evictions based on knowingly false facts; and from inducing tenants to vacate their homes through “fraud, intimidation or coercion.”
“I am really relieved for her because for one thing, hopefully she will not be harassed anymore,” Suh said. “The owner no longer owns it so he is no longer in the position to harass her.”
The $30,000 settlement will go toward Edwards’ attorney’s fees for the three lawsuits filed by Gharib.
“It was really a group effort,” Edwards said. “I feel so fortunate between the City Attorney and (my attorney) Sonya Molho and, of course, Santa Monicans for Renter’s Rights.”
Overall, Edward say she feels blessed she will be able to stay in her apartment for as long as she lives.
“God willing, as long as I’m of sound mind and body,” Edwards said.