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Longtime Santa Monica Landlord Activist, Attorney Dead at 75

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By Jorge Casuso

Editor's note: This article was updated at 10:30 a.m. Monday to include a quote from former City Attorney Robert Myers. A tribute to Rosario Perry will take place tonight at the ACTION Apartment Association meeting at 7 p.m. at the Lighthouse Church, 1220 20th Street, in Santa Monica.

April 8, 2022 -- Landlord attorney Rosario Perry -- whose wildly creative legal arguments helped shape Santa Monica's rent control laws for four decades -- died Thursday night. He was 75.

A former assistant City Attorney, Perry became a champion of Santa Monica property owners after Rent Control was ushered in by local voters in 1979.

Rosario Perry at ACTION Apartment Association Meeting
Rosario Perry at ACTION Apartment Association Meeting (Courtesy Jim Jacobson)

Landlords -- many of them retired couples who had saved to buy small multi-unit buildings -- flocked to hear him speak at meetings, where his keen wit and knowledge of the City's rent laws made him the main attraction.

But it was his imaginative legal arguments and no-nonsense approach to solving tenant problems that won praise among local landlords and earned the ire of tenant advocates.

"He was a great legal mind," said Bill Dawson, vice president of Sullivan Dituri, a real estate and property management firm. "Some of his ideas were out there, but sometimes he hit a home run.

"He was always itching for a fight," Dawson said. "He loved the city of Santa Monica and was a staunch defender of property and landlord rights."

Former City Attorney Robert Myers, who wrote Santa Monica's rent control law, praised Perry's passion, civility and creativity.

“Rosario was a passionate and creative attorney," said Myers, who served as City attorney from 1981 to 1992. "I greatly appreciated his courtesy and civility. He treated everyone with respect, something too often missing in law and politics.”

The son of a Santa Monica doctor who owned rental property when Rent Control was passed, Perry had a passion for representing mom and pop landlords.

"What was unique was the intense passion he felt about the wrongs that had been inflicted on Santa Monica property owners," said Wes Wellman, a Realtor and landlord activist who met Perry in 1978.

"It wasn't just financial. His motivation was really rooted in his desire to right a wrong. That was something he felt at the very beginning, and it never dissipated."

"He was one of the few in the legal profession that stood by and vigorously and unashamedly defended the rights of property owners," said Albinas Markevicius, president of the real estate and property management firm Roque & Mark, who knew Perry for four decades.

Rosario Perry for City Council poster

It is difficult to find much information about Perry, who made a run for the City Council in the 1970s. There is no profile online or presence on social media.

Legal websites only say he graduated from Stanford University, received his law degree from USC's Gould School of Law and has 49 years of legal experience.

Only one image of Perry -- a black and white group photo from a 2003 issue of the ACTION Apartment Association newsletter -- can be found on the internet.

But those who knew him can fill in his profile with vivid details -- the white socks he always wore, the Princess Di memorabilia lined behind his desk.

A regular speaker at ACTION Apartment Association meetings, Perry was valued for his legal insights as well as his ability to entertain.

"He was the headliner all the people came to hear," Wellman said. "We had to put him at the end of the program because otherwise half the people would leave after he talked."

Elaine Golden-Gealer, an ACTION leader, never forgot the story Perry told of squatters who took over a vacant building and were protected from eviction by Santa Monica's strict tenant laws.

"I used to leave my door open for tenants to look around and pick up an application," Golden-Gealer said. "Since then, I'm there at all the showings, and I always lock the door."

Perry often shared his wit in print, writing for the Action newsletter and occasionally sharing opinion pieces in The Lookout ("Open Letter to President Bush," May 19, 2003).

For many Santa Monica landlords over the past 40 years, Perry was more than a legal adviser.

"Rosario was a friend of mine, a gentleman, an attorney with integrity, and a warrior for rental housing providers," said Mathew Millen, a leader of Progressive Landlords of Santa Monica. "He will be greatly missed."

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