CITY HALL — The owner of an 18-unit apartment building on Hollister Avenue and his property manager have been ordered to pay more than $12,000 and attend a fair housing class after city officials sued them for harassing a longtime tenant.
The court judgment and injunction against George Bassiry and his manager, Gilbert Rodriguez, was reached Dec. 20, 2012, the same day that the city attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit filed a tenant harassment lawsuit against them, city officials stated Thursday in a news release.
City attorneys claimed the pair tried to get Cordula Ohman, a senior citizen, to move out of her longtime, rent-controlled apartment through a series of “baseless eviction notices, lawsuits and threats.”
“It was a year of hell,” Ohman said.
Ohman, who lived at the property at 143 Hollister Ave. for 32 years and helped manage it for more than a decade, fought back, securing the pro-bono services of the Legal Aid Foundation and of the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to help her defend the evictions.
“This case involved a landlord’s campaign of baseless eviction attempts aimed at each tenant,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “Each lawsuit was dismissed by the landlord as soon as it became clear that the tenant was not going to vacate but fight.”
Santa Monica law prohibits landlords from inducing rent-controlled tenants to vacate their homes through fraud, intimidation or coercion; as well as through false evictions.
The City Council in 1996 approved the Tenant Harassment Ordinance in response to a 1995 state law that weakened local rent-control ordinances. The state law allowed landlords to raise rents whenever a tenant moved out of an apartment, a significant change in Santa Monica, where the tough rent control law had long prohibited rent increases when people moved.
Bassiry was the first landlord to be sued under that ordinance when the City Attorney’s Office filed a lawsuit against him for allegedly trying to coerce his tenants to move so he could raise rents, according to a report by the L.A. Times published in 1997.
“While we appreciate the landlord’s cooperation in resolving the case, this is exactly the kind of misconduct the tenant harassment law was designed to prevent,” Rhoades said.
Bassiry and Rodriguez could not be reached for comment.
In addition to the financial penalty and the fair housing training, both men were ordered to cease direct contact with Ohman, who complained of harassment throughout 2012.
Of the $12,800 judgement, $6,000 will go to the City Attorney’s Office, $5,000 to Ohman for damages and Bassiry will have to deduct $150 from her rent each month in 2013.
“This new year is starting off very well for me,” Ohman told the Daily Press Thursday. “I am delighted and very surprised. I did not expect any money.”