City Attorney Sues SM Landlord Who Allegedly Tried to Evict Long-term Tenants During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Complaint Alleges Harassment, Fraud and Intimidation to Evade Local, State and Federal Eviction Moratoriums
February 22, 2021
Santa Monica is taking a tougher stance against landlords who have ignored the eviction moratorium and aggressively tried to force out long-term tenants during the pandemic.
The SM City Attorney's office has filed a lawsuit against Youseph Golshirazian, Hanokh Golshirazian, and SoCal Investment Company, LLC – owners and managers of a multi-residential property at 153 San Vicente Boulevard – for violations of the city's Tenant Harassment Ordinance and the eviction moratorium, which expires March 31.
The moratorium in Los Angeles County last through February 28 and it also includes provisions strengthening protections for renters facing intimidation and harassment from landlords. Meanwhile, California has extended the ban through June 30. The move bans eviction for tenants who have pay at least 25% of the rent they owe.
According to the Santa Monica complaint, the defendants purchased the 30-unit apartment complex in 2017 and soon after "engaged in a campaign to empty out the building of long-term tenants." Santa Monica Rent Control Board records indicated that 23 units were vacant at the time the complaint was filed.
In addition, the lawsuit claims the defendants engaged in unlawful behavior towards five of the last-remaining tenants, including "fraud, intimidation, harassment and attempted evictions without justification."
"It is always illegal for landlords to harass or otherwise threaten tenants' housing security with false or misleading statements. It is even worse when that happens during the middle of a public health and economic crisis," said George Cardona, Interim Santa Monica City Attorney. "The city will take all appropriate enforcement actions against landlords who violate the city's tenant protection laws, and help tenants stay housed in their homes."
The five tenants have lived in their rent-controlled apartments between four and 15 years and include a family with two minor children, and an elderly couple, both senior citizens over the age of 70. One tenant tested positive for Covid-19 in December 2020, city officials said. All five households pay rent significantly less for their apartments than the reported rents for the other units in their complex.
In August 2020, according to the complaint, the defendants informed the five tenants that the city had approved their plans for major repairs at the building and were waiting for the Rent Control Board to approve the temporary relocation plans for the tenants. The defendants asked the tenants to sign a temporary move out agreement and assured them that they could move back into their units once the work was done.
In another letter, the defendants indicated that once the repair work starts, the building would be uninhabitable, and refusal to temporarily relocate would constitute a nuisance, the lawsuit said.
"The five tenants refused to temporarily relocate, for fear that the landlord may not allow them to move back in after the work is completed, and due to Covid-19 public health concerns," city officials said.
Attorneys from the city and its Rent Control Board wrote to the defendants, stating that their letters contained "multiple false and misleading statements" and that the remodeling plans had not been approved, which meant the tenants were not required by law or any city order to move out of the complex.
In November, during a Covid-19 pandemic surge, the defendants filed unlawful detainer actions against the five tenants after they refused to temporarily relocate for work which the city had not yet approved. In December, the tenants went to court to fight the evictions with legal aid attorneys from LAFLA-Santa Monica and the defendants dropped the eviction request, only to then serve the tenants with a new Three-Day Notice to Quit, city officials said.
According to the complaint, the property was advertised for sale on Loopnet.com, where it stated that "[o]nly five units are currently occupied and Seller is in the process of completing the buy-outs." The complaint also contends at least two vacant units in the building were listed on Airbnb.com as vacation rentals.