CITY HALL — The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office filed an 18-count criminal complaint Thursday against three Los Angeles County residents for allegedly cheating customers out of thousands of dollars in a rental scam.
Eran Shabtay, Ann Dora Shabtay and Stacy Gale Shabtay face counts of grand theft, false advertising and operating without a business license for shady dealings while renting out a property near Second Street and Ocean Park Boulevard in Santa Monica to unwitting customers trying to book a stay in the seaside town.
Four customers — one international traveler and three from the United States — went to the Santa Monica City Attorney Office’s Consumer Protection Unit with complaints about the property.
The complaints stemmed from stays beginning Oct. 5, 2011 through Jan. 1, 2012.
Some alleged that their credit cards were charged multiple times for the same stay and in higher amounts than originally agreed upon, and others said that they arrived at the property only to find out that it had been double-booked with other customers on the same day.
All four agreed that the advertisements for the property were false and misleading, causing them to believe the rental was larger and more luxurious than in reality, said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky.
The rental cost between $2,500 and $3,000 per week, he said.
The property was put up for rent at www.vrbo.com and www.homeaway.com, and the trio operated under business names including MMM Properties, Stone Edge Properties and West Coast Realty Group.
Neither a Stone Edge Properties nor West Coast Realty Group turn up as registered corporations on the Secretary of State website.
It’s illegal to rent out spare rooms in one’s home to tourists or anyone else within Santa Monica city limits for a period of less than 30 days. An ordinance was passed in 2004 to ban the practice after neighbors complained about the disruption the short-term rentals brought to quiet, residential neighborhoods.
For years, city officials played a passive role in enforcing the ordinance, relying on complaints rather than actively seeking out violators. That changed last year, when code enforcement officials began looking for vacation rental operators on popular websites like those used to advertise the Ocean Park property.
The ordinance hasn’t been a factor in this investigation, which has been going on for months, Radinsky said.
The defendants are expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles Superior Court on Dec. 11. Each of the charged offenses is a misdemeanor, and carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of up to $2,500.
The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office is continuing to investigate the case. Consumers who have lost money to these businesses or individuals should immediately contact the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit at (310) 458-8336 or smconsumer.org.