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Santa Monica Landlord's Plan To Evict Tenant Backfires Spectacularly

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Here's a win for the little guy: a Santa Monica jury has sided with a tenant whose landlord attempted to evict him after 24 years for making improvements to his unit. Not only that, the City is suing the landlord for "tenant harassment."

Landlord Barbara Bills of WIB Holdings was trying to evict Paul Aron, her tenant, from an apartment at 2637 Centinela Ave, The Santa Monica Mirror reports. Aron had been living there since 1991, and over the last several years had made several improvements to the unit with his own time and money. In a video posted by Westside Today, Aron says that many of the upgrades were supervised improvements he made because landlords are often unwilling to spend money on rent-controlled units like his. The video shows several of the upgrades, and it isn't like he built himself a panic room or turned his apartment into a cat jungle. It's upgraded counter tops, new flooring and modern fixtures.

Aron pays less than $800/month for his space in a neighborhood where the current market rate is over $1700/month. Two other tenants in the building, Paticia Barkley and Curtis Failor, have the same deal. Bills tried several times to buy out the three tenants, but they refused to leave their homes. Bills then allegedly moved to Plan B: bullying and harassing her tenants. Not only did Bills' scheme fail, it really backfired. The City of Santa Monica filed a suit last summer against WIB Holdings for three counts of "tenant harassment," Surf Santa Monica reports.

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One tenant said that Bills photographed their bedroom while they were in bed. Another said she took video of their apartment while she was supposed to be checking out a leaking faucet. They say she had her lawyer send them notices that were both untrue and intimidating. Bills harassed them about missing payments, though the tenants claim they paid their rent on time.

Bills' next scheme was to evict Aron on the basis that the renovations he made violated his rental agreement, though many of them had been completed in the '90s. On Wednesday, a Santa Monica jury concluded that Bills had waived her right to evict Aron, and that her attempt to evict him had more to do with her ulterior motives than the upgrades.

Aron's case is, unfortunately, not rare, especially on the Westside. In a city of escalating rent, many landlords are trying to oust long-term tenants to cash in on skyrocketing market values. Landlords would rather spend money to evict or buyout tenants if they can make more money on new ones. Denise McGranahan, Senior Attorney with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said that some landlords are offering packages valued at $40,000 to get out. However, lots of tenants prefer to stay in their cheaper apartments versus dealing with paying exorbitant costs on new units and dealing with moving. And, it really is their right to do so.

In these cases, particularly malevolent landlords then turn to their final option: making their tenants' lives miserable. Some landlords mysteriously fail to receive rent checks, or come up with reasons for numerous inspections that invade the privacy of their tenants.

For this reason, Santa Monica made changes to their Tenant Harassment laws. Landlords are no longer allowed to bully tenants with inspections. They've also created a new process for lease buyouts.

"[They] must be in writing, with full disclosure of tenant rights, filed with the City and subject to a 30-day period for reconsideration," Mayor Kevin McKeown said.

McGranahan advises any tenant in a prime rent-controlled apartment to keep records of landlord interactions, pay their rent on time, and not change anything without receiving permission in writing. And if things do get hostile or weird, tenants should ask for help from City officials immediately.

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