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1437 10th Street (photo by Brandon Wise)

10TH STREET — The City Attorney’s Office reached a $20,000 settlement last week with U.S. Bank after tenants of a Santa Monica rental property accused the corporation of harassment.

Tenants from a property on the 1400 block of 10th Street first filed a complaint against the bank in April 2010, claiming that bank representatives were trying to force them from their homes, said Deputy District Attorney Eda Suh.

The building in question is a rent-controlled property subject to Santa Monica Rent Control law, which means tenancies can be terminated for a limited number of reasons, including failure to pay rent, or violation of the lease.

The tenants claimed that they had received letters from the bank telling them they owed past due rent, written notices to vacate the premises and in-person pressure from manager Gret Geunther of AGP Asset Management in Woodland Hills, according to a press release issued by the City Attorney’s Office.

An investigation confirmed that water service to the building was cut off for half a day, and tenants further alleged that Geunther threatened to shut off utilities.

Two people left the residence as a result of the harassment, Suh said.

Suh became involved when the renters approached the Rent Control Board. Staff there referred the matter to the city attorney.

“We get complaints from tenants, investigate them and a lot of times we will pursue it with the owner to get their side,” Suh said. “Where appropriate, we will pursue criminal charges.”

This case was settled out of court, without a complaint filed on behalf of the city attorney.

Under the settlement agreement, U.S. Bank agreed to pay the two remaining tenants $4,000 each, and reimburse one tenant her attorney fees; pay $5,700 to each of the two tenants who moved out; follow an injunction against future violations of Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance; and requiring the bank’s broker and property manager to complete a City Hall-approved management training course.

Geunther refused to comment for this story. Edward Treder, the attorney representing U.S. Bank, was unavailable for comment.

ashley@smdp.com