Court rules for tenants

GLENDALE — Two property companies have been ordered to pay more than $19,400 to eight tenants for the distress they endured while living at a Montrose apartment complex during massive reconstruction.

The tenants had filed a lawsuit in Glendale Superior Court against StarPoint Properties LLC and Valderas Drive LLC for relocation costs after they said their apartments were left rundown while construction crews worked on the complex.

Commissioner Steven Monette mailed out his judgment to the tenants in which he ruled in favor of them and against StarPoint Properties and Valderas Drive LLC, citing that they were substantially impaired in using and enjoying their apartments during the reconstruction.

But he said that since the tenants weren’t evicted, their relocation fees had to be capped off under a Glendale Municipal Code.

“I don’t think that he read all of our evidence,” former tenant William Jess Proctor said. “I don’t agree with the judge.”

Former tenant Luis Madrigal was awarded $2,832.45; former tenant Angelo Synodis got $2,751.60, Proctor’s settlement was $3,437; tenant Nancy Mills was awarded $3,523; former tenant Homer Tom’s settlement was $2,825; former tenant Ted Neroda was awarded $3,523.35; tenant Bahman Ahmadpour will receive $2,663.40 and former tenant Damon der Avanessian was awarded $3,442.50, according to court documents.

But most of the tenants requested $7,500, the maximum claim amount allowed in small claims court.

“I’m happy that it’s over, and I will attend and speak in front of the Glendale City Council to encourage them to consider rental control,” Proctor said.

StarPoint Executive Vice President Michael Farahnik offered the tenants during the civil case two times the cost of their rent, plus an additional $500. But the tenants refused the offer.

Farahnik declined comment Wednesday.

The tenants’ civil cases came four months after a criminal court judge dismissed charges against the property companies in which 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 purchased the apartment complex at 2121 Valderas Drive in March 2007 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 became angry about what had been occurring at the apartment complex and attended City Council meetings, where they criticized the property owner and construction project. They also sought help from the city attorney.

After a five-month investigation, the city found in October 2007 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.

But the tenants in the civil case — a completely different group than in the criminal case — claimed they often came home after work and their apartment doors were left open. They claimed their bathtubs and toilets were flooded with feces and holes in walls remained uncovered. The tenants alleged their water was shut off without a 24-hour notice.

Mills, who was awarded less than half of what she requested, said the commissioner overlooked some of the evidence she offered, which resulted in her low settlement.

She was seeking $7,500 from the companies for physical distress she claims to have suffered during the reconstruction.

She and the tenants could have been more aggressive in presenting their case to the commissioner, Mills said.

“People that got attorneys did better,” she said.

Mills still lives at the complex, which is no longer under construction. But she is planning on moving out of the complex.

“I still feel the most important point is that the behavior of StarPoint Properties represents the corporate greed and lack of concern for the damage their actions cause others that has caused the economic disaster we are experiencing in our country and in the world,” Mills said.

Tom was disappointed with his settlement, which was $2,690 plus court fees.

“I think StarPoint really got off lightly here,” he said.

The small amount awarded to him and the tenants demonstrates that the city of Glendale and the small claims court is “not willing to stand up to a big corporation,” Tom said.


 VERONICA ROCHA covers public safety and the courts. She may be reached at (818) 637-3232 or by e-mail at veronica.rocha@latimes.com.

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