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Landlord Pays Record Settlement in Tenant Harassment Case

By Lookout Staff

July 9 -- In what is Santa Monica’s largest tenant harassment settlement to date, a couple that owns a four-unit apartment building has paid an elderly former tenant and the City a total of $200,000, City officials said.

Stacey Valnes and his wife Megan were charged with inducing 82-year-old tenant Winifred Goodman into vacating her longtime rent-controlled unit under false premises, officials at the City Attorneys office said.

Goodman vacated her $529-a-month rent-controlled apartment and moved to Simi Valley to allow the building owners to move into the unit on Colorado Avenue, said Deputy City Attorney Adam Radinsky, who is in charge of consumer affairs.

But instead of moving into the unit, the couple rented it for $2,400 a month, Radinsky said.

After moving out, Goodman “learned that she had been deceived,” he said.

“This case is a cautionary tale for that small group of landlords who would consider using deception or intimidation to get their tenants to leave,” Radinsky said.

The City sued the Valneses in Santa Monica Superior Court in June 2007, charging that the couple had violated Santa Monica’s tenant harassment law, which prohibits landlords from inducing rent-controlled tenants to vacate their homes through “fraud, intimidation or coercion.”

Goodman later retained an attorney and filed a separate lawsuit against the Valneses, Radinsky said. The two cases were consolidated for trial, which was scheduled to begin this month.

Under the settlement the couple paid Goodman $160,000 and the City $40,000, which will go into its Consumer Protection fund to educate landlords and tenants of their rights and responsibilities, Radinsky said.





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