Tenant pleads case against StarPoint

GLENDALE — A court commissioner heard testimony Friday from one of eight tenants who have filed a lawsuit against owners and operators of a Montrose apartment complex for relocation fees after their homes were reportedly uninhabitable during massive reconstruction.

Commissioner Steven Monette reviewed Nancy Mills’ case, which was filed separately at the Glendale Superior Court from those of the other seven tenants.

Mills’ and the tenants’ cases, which were heard Aug. 15 by the same commissioner, are against StarPoint Properties LLC and Valderas Drive LLC.

Mills is seeking $7,500 from the companies for physical distress she claims to have suffered during an extensive overhaul of the apartment complex at 2121 Valderas Drive. Mills still lives at the complex, which is no longer under construction.

“The laws that have been invented to protect tenants have been ignored,” she said.

During reconstruction of the complex’s piping, Mills’ bathtub and toilet were flooded with feces and brown water, she said.

Monette told Mills he has to remain objective when reviewing her and the other tenants’ cases.

“Based upon what I see, there were clearly hardships and inconveniences to the tenants,” he said. “We look at that, and we also have to balance that with the benefit that this work had to be done.”

Mills and the tenants’ civil cases came four months after a criminal court judge dismissed charges against the property companies, after attorneys representing the companies and 12 other tenants reached an agreement that awarded about $30,000 in relocation fees to the tenants.

StarPoint and Valderas Drive came under scrutiny in April 2007 after residents said some tenants were evicted without reason and given raised rents after complaining about poor construction work.

The company purchased the property a month earlier for $17 million and immediately began construction to upgrade the units. Tenants alleged that StarPoint had served 20 eviction notices in April without giving reasons, which violates the city’s just-cause-for-eviction ordinance.

The ordinance 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.

Tenants attended City Council meetings out of frustration about what had been occurring at the apartment complex and criticized the property owner. They also asked for help from the city attorney.

In October 2007, after a five-month investigation, the city found that the property companies violated the just-cause-for-eviction ordinance. The city then filed a criminal complaint, which was resolved when attorneys for the companies and tenants reached their agreement.

StarPoint Executive Vice President Michael Farahnik offered Mills and the other tenants in the current civil case two times the cost of their rent, plus an additional $500. Mills and the tenants refused his offer.

Mills believes her experience during the construction at the complex was chaotic. The construction workers, she said, were often left unsupervised.

“It was like a free-for-all,” she said.

Holes on walls were left open and unfinished in her apartment, Mills said. Construction hours often extended past 10 p.m., and tenants were given late notices that the water was going to be shut off, she said. Mills had to get acupuncture therapy for the lack of sleep she suffered during the construction. She believes the properties owners were trying to push the tenants out of the apartment complex.

“They wanted people to move so they don’t have to pay for relocation fees,” Mills said.

But Farahnik said StarPoint had performed construction on the complex because the piping was old and worn.

“This is work that had to be done,” he said. “No ifs, ands or buts.”

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