The tenancies of 25 residents of a Santa Monica apartment that were terminated as part of an alleged religious mission have been restored under a settlement agreement reached between the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office and the property owner.

The tenants live in the Teriton Apartments, a 28-unit complex at Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, which was designated as a historical landmark in 2005.

A group known as “Or Khaim Hashalom” (OKH), incorporated as a nonprofit religious organization in January 2006, bought the Teriton Apartments in April 2006. The group claimed that as a religious organization, it was exempt from historic landmark preservation laws and allowed to demolish a landmarked building, said a Santa Monica city attorney spokesman.

Or Khaim Hashalom then proposed a plan to demolish the Teriton complex to build 40 luxury condominiums, and the group also informed tenants that, based on its religious mission, the tenants would have to vacate and that only Jewish persons from the Middle East would qualify as future residents, Santa Monica deputy city attorney Gary Rhoades alleged.

After receiving warnings of tenancy terminations, several Teriton tenants filed complaints with the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office, Rhoades said. Many of the tenants are senior citizens and several of them have lived there more than 15 years.

Paula Rockenstein, consumer affairs specialist for the City Attorney’s Office, investigated the complaints and met with the tenants.

The City Attorney’s Office Consumer Protection Unit filed a lawsuit in July 2006, alleging a “housing discrimination scheme with transparency that is unusual for the post-Civil Rights Act era.” The lawsuit alleged that as a landlord, Or Khaim Hashalom committed housing discrimination against its tenants by terminating their tenancies because of their race, religion, and national origin.

The property owner also repeatedly informed the tenants that it was forcing them out to make room for Jewish persons from the Middle East, the lawsuit claimed. The complaint also alleged that the landlord had falsely claimed it was a religious organization to “defraud its tenants, many of whom are elderly and disabled, as well as the Santa Monica community.”

The tenants also filed a separate lawsuit against Or Khaim Hashalom in federal court in which an injunction was obtained, stopping any evictions, pending trial, Rhoades said.

Under the lawsuit settlement agreement reached, the property owner was required to restore the tenancies of the residents and return all units to the jurisdiction of the Rent Control Board at their former rent-controlled rates.

The landlord’s Notice of Intention to withdraw the Teriton Apartments from the rental market was rescinded and Or Khaim Hashalom is forbidden from withdrawing the property from the rental market for at least three years, with an additional one-year grace period for all tenants, according to the agreement.

Among the other requirements of the agreement is that Or Khaim Hashalom adopt a comprehensive written fair housing policy stating that race, national origin and religion will not be used as criteria for tenants or residents at the Teriton property.

Two final terms of the settlement addressed monetary restitution for the tenants and monitoring by the City Attorney’s Office, Rhoades said. As of November 19th, Or Khaim Hashalom had complied with several of the terms and all of the tenants had obtained satisfactory monetary restitution agreements with the property owner, he said.

“This comprehensive agreement has many parts, fixed and moving,” said Rhoades, “but the most important part is that each and every Teriton tenant gets their home back if they want.”

Or Khaim Hashalom and co-defendant Rosario Perry were represented by the law firm Lewis, Brisbois, Bisgaard and Smith.

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