The City of Santa Monica announced this week it had won the latest in a string of legal victories in tenant protection cases, successfully defending its Anti-Housing Discrimination Ordinance in LA County Superior Court last month.

The decision in the lawsuit, City of Santa Monica v. Lee, came down on July 12 but the City of Santa Monica announced its victory in an Aug. 8 press release.

According to information provided by the City in the release, the judgment in favor of the City’s Public Rights Division marked the “fifth tenant protection case in just over eight months in which the Public Rights Division has obtained a judgment and injunctive relief.”

At issue in the legal proceeding was a landlord’s reported refusal to accept a longtime tenant’s Section 8 voucher in what City attorneys alleged was a “discriminatory and coercive tactic” designed to evict the rental unit’s inhabitant and re-let the apartment at a significantly higher monthly rent — up to triple the current rate.

The voucher was awarded to 69-year-old tenant Liliana Dasic through Section 8, a voucher federal program designed to assist “very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market,” according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, commonly referred to by its acronym, HUD.

Dasic checked more than one box, being “69 years old, disabled, a liver transplant recipient, a cancer survivor, and extremely rent-burdened,” the City described in its initial complaint against her three landlords, Jonathan, Leon and Jenny Lee.

The initial complaint, filed in February 2022, stated that Dasic had been a tenant in a rent-controlled apartment unit for 25 years and her monthly rent was $838.78, “far below market rent.” Yet, she paid all but $198 of her monthly income on rent and was forced to use food stamps, according to the court filing.

The Section 8 voucher would have adjusted Dasic’s monthly rent burden from nearly 81 percent of her monthly income down to 30 percent, or about $311. However, her landlord refused to accept her voucher, according to the complaint.

“On December 22, 2021, the City Attorney’s Office contacted Mr. Lee and informed him of Ms. Dasic’s fragile finances (along with the facts that she was disabled and a senior). Mr. Lee refused to agree to accept the voucher,” the initial complaint, dated March 7, stated. “As of this filing, Defendants have still refused, forcing Ms. Dasic to pay the entire rent in February and March without the voucher.”

City attorneys argued the Lees violated the Santa Monica Municipal Code in several areas including the Tenant Harassment Ordinance, as well as other state laws that prohibit housing discrimination. 

As a result of the injunctive relief awarded in Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III, the three defendants must attend a City-approved fair housing training, adopt a City-approved fair housing policy and accept Dasic’s voucher. The Lees were also ordered to pay $20,000 in “fines, penalties, fees, assessments, restitution, unjust enrichment, damages, attorneys’ fees and costs of investigation or litigation,” per Ford’s final judgment. 

“Closing the door on Section 8 discrimination opens many other doors for applicants and tenants,” City Attorney Doug Sloan said in a prepared statement provided in the City’s press release. “The vouchers, this law, and our enforcement program are making a meaningful difference for rent-burdened Santa Monicans.”

More information on tenants’ rights in Santa Monica may be found at www.santamonica.gov/tenants-rights.

emily@smdp.com