GLENDALE — Superior Court Judge Stan Blumenfeld dismissed charges on Friday against the owners and operators of a Montrose apartment complex for alleged violations of tenants’ rights after attorneys reached a deal to give an estimated $30,000 in relocation fees to 12 affected residents.
The settlement closes the criminal side of the case, capping off months of investigations and complaints from residents who said StarPoint Properties LLC and Valderas Drive Properties LLC — which own and run the apartment complex at 2121 Valderas Drive — evicted tenants without reason and raised rents illegally after shoddy construction left some apartments in shambles.
“The city is happy with this outcome, and the property owner is now fully aware of the tenants’ concerns,” Deputy City Atty. Dorine Martirosian said. “We are glad we were able to send a message.”
Attorneys would not disclose the exact settlement amount, or how the funds will be dispersed, as both sides are awaiting the outcome of a pending civil trial brought by former residents of the complex.
StarPoint first came under fire in April 2007 after it served 20 eviction notices without citing a reason, a violation of the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance, which requires landlords to cite one of 11 acceptable reasons for evicting tenants and to pay evicted tenants relocation fees of $1,000 plus two months’ worth of fair market rent. The company purchased the property a month earlier for $17 million and immediately began construction to upgrade the units.
The work, which residents said made their units uninhabitable — coupled with raised rents and the attempt to evict 20 residents — motivated tenants to show up at City Council meetings to lambaste the property owner and ask for help from the city attorney.
StarPoint rescinded the evictions but raised rents — from $30 to more than $500 a month — for all 104 tenants in the building, which residents said amounted to a retaliatory attempt to force them out of the building.
An ensuing five-month city investigation found that the companies violated the city’s just cause for eviction ordinance in multiple ways, but StarPoint attorneys said attempts to right the company’s wrong are underway.
“Perhaps the building wasn’t where it should be on some issues, but it was not very run-down,” said Lara Yeretsian, a defense attorney with the firm Geragos & Geragos. “Our clients want to make [the apartment] a better place to live for Glendale residents. They came here with the best of intentions. They want to get along with the community.”
Yeretsian said that the effort to settle the lawsuit was not an admission of guilt by StarPoint but an effort to put the issue behind them.
“Our clients are very happy with this result,” she said. “It’s best any time you can get the case dismissed.”
Former residents of the Valderas Drive complex decried the settlement, saying the amount agreed upon by StarPoint and the city was too low.
“It’s a steal for them,” said Angelo Synodis, a former resident in the complex named in the lawsuit. “For $30,000, they are making a fortune. This is a million-dollar company. It’s about money, but it’s not about money.”
Others wondered if the settlement fell short of federal housing guidelines per regulations outlines by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“StarPoint has offered to settle with people at an amount that is less than the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] guidelines,” said former Valderas Drive resident Sharon DeFrank, who was not named in the criminal case after having received about $38,000 in relocation costs. “The city has the [U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] guidelines, but is willing to let StarPoint pay people less. I hate to think they are working together, but it’s hard not to.”
While the criminal case has been settled, the civil trial is slated to continue Aug. 15 in Glendale Superior Court.
Synodis and four others are named in the suit, which is set for 2 p.m. in Department 5.
JEREMY OBERSTEIN covers business, politics and the foothills. He may be reached at (818) 637-3215 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.