Nine local rent-controlled tenants have secured a million-dollar settlement in a lawsuit against their former landlords.
In the 2016 lawsuit, the tenants alleged that their landlords, the Mink family, maintained their apartment building in an uninhabitable and unsafe condition and then illegally tried to terminate their tenancies after a fire forced them to vacate the building and failed to pay them temporary relocation benefits required under local law. The building on Ocean Front Walk near the Santa Monica Pier, which was known as the Overlook Hotel, caught fire in December 2015.
The fire was a result of the building’s substandard electrical system, according to a press release from Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Scali Rasmussen, PC, who represented the tenants pro bono. The tenants said the building also contained defective plumbing, fire prevention and heating systems, mold and infestations of bedbugs and cockroaches.
The Mink family did not pay the tenants the temporary relocation benefits required under Santa Monica law while they were displaced after the fire, according to the press release.
“Although it took years of litigation, we were able to get these tenants compensation for the hardships they endured,” said Denise McGranahan, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. “I hope that this case will serve as a warning to landlords who consider defying laws designed to protect vulnerable tenants.”
After the fire, the Mink family filed paperwork with the Santa Monica Rent Control Board to withdraw the property from the residential rental housing market under the Ellis Act. They then began planning to convert the Overlook Hotel and adjacent properties into a commercial enterprise.
The family eventually offered the tenants permanent relocation benefits after illegally terminating their tenancies, according to the press release.
“I lost my home of 28 years and all of my belongings in a fire that could have been prevented had the Mink family taken proper care of their building,” said Isabel Cerneka, one of the plaintiffs. “Rather than pay temporary relocation, Marty Mink told my neighbors and me to sleep in sleeping bags on the manager’s floor. I am now 77 years old, and the fire took a toll on my health and the lawsuit was very stressful.”
John Swenson, an attorney with Scali Rasmussen, said the Mink family delayed the trial in the lawsuit for three and a half years before a judge ruled they had to pay their former tenants $1 million.
“If (they) had simply complied with local law, (their) liability would have been limited to only tens of thousands in relocation benefits,” Swenson said.