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Santa Monica Landlord Facing Jail Time for Violating Court Order, Harassing Tenants

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By Jason Islas
Lookout reporter

April 1, 2014 -- A Los Angeles Superior Court judge last Tuesday handed down a five-day jail sentence to a Santa Monica landlord with a history of harassing tenants.

Judge Lisa Hart Cole ruled that the 82-year-old Isaac Gabriel, who owns two rent-controlled apartment buildings, will have to pay a $24,000 fine and spend five days in County jail.

Cole’s ruling came after tenants testified Gabriel had been in frequent contact with them -- and even allegedly threatened one with a baseball bat -- despite a 2010 court order prohibiting him from coming within 10 yards of his buildings’ residents.

The original 2010 Court order came after the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office “proved that Gabriel had broken the law in his capacity as landlord, by committing: sexual harassment of a female tenant; repeated illegal entries into tenants’ units; and illegal renting of uninhabitable space,” according to a statement released by the City Thursday.

According to the statement, Gabriel can avoid jail time if he proves he has hired a professional property management firm to oversee his two buildings at 1007 16th Street, which has four units, and 1035 Fifth Street, which has 10 units.

“The main thing the City is looking for is (for him) to hire a property management company,” Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades told The Lookout Monday. “If he does that by April 29th, he can avoid the jail time.”

However, Rhoades said that if Gabriel refuses to hire a property management firm, the City will likely ask for the Court to appoint a property manager to oversee the units which rent from about $500 to about $2,300 a month, according to City records.

City officials alleged that Gabriel was an “equal opportunity harasser,” targeting tenants in low-rent and market-rate units.

While Gabriel did not comment on the ruling, he told The Lookout that he plans to appeal.

Tuesday’s ruling is the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle between Gabriel and the City which began a decade ago.

In 2004, the City Attorney’s Office invoked the state’s Unfair Competition Law against Gabriel -- the first time City officials had used the law in a tenant harassment case -- alleging that he had attacked his tenants, tried to cheat them into paying extra money and charged illegally high rents. (“City Attorney Sues Landlord Under Consumer Protection Law,” June 30, 2014)

The City had to seek authorization from the L.A. County District Attorney to use California’s Unfair Competition Law, which prohibits fraudulent and unfair business practices, according to City officials.

In 2006, a judge found Gabriel guilty and ordered him to pay nearly $50,000 in fines and barred him from having contact with his tenants, but the ruling was appealed. A judge upheld the ruling in 2010, officials said.

Rhoades hopes that Tuesday’s ruling will mean an end to the ongoing battle.

“Hopefully the threat of jail time will finally persuade him to finally get a management company in there,” he said.

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