Judge sets date for tenants' case

GLENDALE — Superior Court Judge Stan Blumenfeld on Wednesday set June 13 as the date to begin the trial in the city’s criminal case against the owners and operators of a Montrose apartment complex for alleged violations of tenants’ rights.

The city brought the case against StarPoint Properties, LLC and Valderas Drive Properties, LLC, the companies that own and run the apartment complex at 2121 Valderas Drive, for alleged violations of the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance. After conducting a five-month investigation last summer and fall, the city attorney’s office concluded that the companies violated the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance in multiple ways.

The city launched its investigation in this month after residents in the building, which is known as the Falls at Montrose, started airing their concerns about eviction notices, rent increases and construction work at the building at Glendale City Council meetings.

“The charges are that the defendants violated the city’s just cause ordinance and failed to pay relocation fees,” said Deputy City Attorney Dorine Martirosian.

In October, the city attorney’s office filed a complaint with Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging that the property owners increased the rent for 19 tenants to retaliate against them for asserting their rights, and failed to pay relocation fees that were owed to 14 tenants. The complaint contains 33 criminal counts that are infractions or misdemeanors.

Under the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance, landlords are prohibited from retaliating against tenants who are asserting their rights by increasing the rent or decreasing services. Under the same ordinance, landlords are also required to pay tenants relocation assistance when their unit must be vacated for major rehabilitation.

The defendants entered a plea of not guilty on March 31, Martirosian said.

Lara Yeretsian, the attorney representing the two companies, said that StarPoint purchased the property with the goal of making the building a better place.

Whether or not the city’s just cause ordinance was violated is what is in dispute, she said.

“The natural thing for us is to want a dismissal, a complete dismissal,” Yeretsian said.

StarPoint Properties purchased the building in March 2007 for $17 million and began construction to upgrade the apartments.

The level of construction was invasive and disruptive, some residents said.

Yucaipa resident Tracy Harney’s mother had been living in the Valderas Drive property for 40 years, but moved out in June when the work became too much for her.

“They made it impossible for her to stay in her apartment, with construction crews in and out with no warning,” Harney said. “It was a nightmare.”

In April 2007, StarPoint served 20 eviction notices on tenants and did not cite a reason for the evictions. The notices were later rescinded when the city attorney’s office informed the company that a landlord must cite one of 11 specific reasons to evict a resident under city code.

Later in April 2007, StarPoint announced that all tenants’ rent would go up by between $30 and $500 per month.

Yvonne Johnson, who still lives at The Falls at Montrose and is named in the city’s complaint against the companies, said she appreciated that the city had brought forward the case, as residents had been feeling powerless last spring.

“I’m really grateful that they listened to all of us and they heard us,” she said

 ANGELA HOKANSON covers education. She may be reached at (818) 637-3238 or by e-mail at angelahokanson@latimes.com.

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