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Santa Monica Sues Landlord for Intimidating Tenants


September 1, 2014

A local landlord is using abusive tactics to intimidate longtime tenants in order to force them out of their rent-controlled apartments, according to a lawsuit filed by the city of Santa Monica last week.

Barbara Bills, who owns a rental property at 2637 Centinela, reportedly entered three of her tenants' apartments – all of whom have lived there more than 20 years – under the guise of inspecting smoke detectors or leaky facets, but instead used the opportunity to document their living conditions, the suit said.

The inspections began this year after all three rejected Bills' offer to buy them out of their apartments. The units are rent-controlled and are below market rates. By law, Bills could increase the rent to market value after a tenant leaves.

Bills recently barged into one tenant's bedroom to take photographs of the room while the person was lying in bed, the complaint said. She videotaped the apartment of another tenant while there to inspect a leaky facet.

Records show Bills' attorney sent intimidating notices to the tenants' homes, threatening eviction. The landlord also falsely accused one of her tenants of failing to pay her rent, the complaint stated.

Bills did not return calls or emails seeking comment.

Santa Monica city staff said Bills' actions violate her right of access and are "part of a scheme to influence the three tenants to vacate their apartments through fraud, intimidation or coercion" after they rejected the buy-out offer. The actions violate Santa Monica's Tenant Harassment Ordinance, which was passed in the 1990s in reaction to the Costa-Hawkins Act that allows rent restrictions to be erased upon vacancy.

The city is asking the court to award $1,000 per violation. Plaintiffs have tallied 10 in their complaint.

City Attorney Marsha Moutrie asks that the court prohibit Bills from violating the city's Tenant Harassment Ordinance, require her to take a housing training course and ban her from entering a tenant's unit for any purpose.


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