People walk by the Cozi Couch furnature store on Seventh Street and Wilshire Boulevard on Saturday morning. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — The Santa Monica City Attorney has opened an investigation against a local business that many customers have accused of not delivering promised merchandise.

Former clients said that Cozi Couch, a furniture store chain headquartered at 700 Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica, requires cash upfront for custom-made furniture and then delivers only a host of broken promises and excuses.

If the order is delivered, customers report, it is extremely late and often wrong.

Deputy City Attorney Paula Rockenstein began receiving complaints in January against the company.

“The office has received a few complaints and we have made some contact,” Rockenstein said. “We want to be thorough. We need all the information from consumers that we can get.”

The general nature of the complaints, Rockenstein said, was that the clients paid on a piece of specialty made furniture and never received it. According to one civil suit from 2008, 11 promised delivery times came and went, and still the purchase was never received.

There have been fewer complaints about furniture bought off the floor.

The Santa Monica store manager, Cory Iturribarria, said that the delays were due to a move of production facilities to a larger factory and problems that ensued. The factory was not ready when they initially moved in and the City of Los Angeles shut it down due to code violations.

“A lot of our laborers quit because they were out a job for two or three weeks,” Iturribarria said. “In the midst of this, the holidays came. A lot of our suppliers close before that week before Thanksgiving and the week before Christmas, so we’re forced to close.”

As a result, orders made around August of 2008 were unusually delayed. The company promises its clients delivery between six to eight weeks.

“Whatever we’re late with, we are offering complimentary gifts,” Iturribarria said.

Some have received that gift, a custom-made ottoman. Most are lacking both gift and their original order.

Arrienne Lezak purchased a custom couch from Cozi Couch Sept. 29, 2008. Her sister, Loralee Lezak, had bought furniture off the floor of the store for her own home between 2005 and 2006 and had a great experience. Her furniture was delivered on time and the mattress she ordered later also arrived without incident.

Arrienne Lezak wasn’t so lucky.

Her couch didn’t arrive on time, and when she called to ask, she was told, “A couch isn’t like pizza.”

“I was treated rudely and got the same excuses as everyone else,” Lezak said.

Lezak plans to sue Cozi Couch for her $3,000.

“It’s not normal for me to trust people. In this case I let my guard down,” she said. “It’s not the money, not the couch, it’s that I trusted someone and they let me down. I’m not letting them get away with that.”

Cameron Richardson bought a custom couch in October 2008. The store promised her the couch in two months time. Come December, she was informed it would be ready by January. In January she was told February.

“They said there was something wrong with the piping [on the couch],” she said. “Then we had to switch factories and all that kind of stuff. It just never came.

“I’ve never been robbed before, but I feel like I’ve been robbed.”

Her boyfriend, an interior designer, custom ordered a couch around the same time for one of his clients. Richardson said the combined cost of their purchases was $10,000 and the company refuses to reimburse them.

The company has an F-rating with the Better Business Bureau. According to the Web site, the Better Business Bureau assigns an “F” when they “strongly question a company’s reliability,” particularly when there are a number of complaints and the complaints contain serious allegations.

There are 25 registered complaints against Cozi Couch, which, according to Lona Luckett of the Better Business Bureau in the Southland, “is quite a lot.”

“If we get a lot of complaints on a specific company and if all the complaints are of a serious and similar nature, we can identify the company has a problem with a side of their business,” Luckett. “This company should have a customized report pointing that out.”

The complaints lodged with the Better Business Bureau against Cozi Couch’s various store locations go back to 2002.

Litigation against Cozi Couch goes back almost as far.

Suits popped up all across Los Angeles County as far back as 2003.

Almost all plaintiffs against Cozi Couch have won their suits, but winning is only half the battle. Small claims cases can be difficult to collect upon because collection is a different process and fully the plaintiff’s responsibility to pursue. Sometimes the cost is in excess of the amount won in the court case, if the defendant pays at all.

Cameron Richardson is at a loss.

“We’re taking [the owner] to small claims court, but apparently even if you take them to court they’re not paying the fines, they’re not reimbursing people,” she said. “So what do you do? You go through the legal system and that doesn’t work either. Do we have any rights? Will we ever get our money back? You do the right thing, you go to court, and you still don’t see the money.”

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