The owner of a four-unit rental property in Santa Monica will pay nearly $20,000 to four current and former tenants under a settlement agreement with the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office.

The tenants of the property at 1437 10th St. had filed complaints with the city attorney’s Consumer Protection Unit, claiming that they were pressured to move out of the building on short notice by representatives of U.S. Bank shortly after it acquired the property in foreclosure, Deputy City Attorney Eda Suh said.

The tenants claimed in the complaint that they received written notices to vacate and were also pressured by manager Gret Geunther of AGP Asset Management, whom they alleged was hired by U.S. Bank to force them out, Suh said. The complaint additionally alleged that water was shut off due to non-payment of bills, and that Geunther threatened to shut off utilities in an effort to harass the tenants into leaving.

The bank also issued letters to the tenants indicating that they owed past due rent, which upon investigation turned out to be false, according to the tenant complaint.

Under the settlement agreement, U.S. Bank has agreed to pay the two remaining tenants $4,000 each, and reimburse one tenant her attorney’s fees; and pay $5,700 to each of the two tenants who moved out. In addition, an injunction was issued against future violations of the tenant harassment ordinance, subject to doubled statutory fines for the next three years; and the bank’s broker and property manager will be required to complete a management training course approved by the city, Suh said.

The building is a rent-controlled property subject to the Santa Monica Rent Control Law and its “just cause” eviction protections, Suh noted.

“Banks, like everyone else who owns or manages apartment buildings in Santa Monica, are subject to the tenant harassment ordinance and rent control laws. They too must be held accountable for violations,” said Suh, who handled the case for the city.

“Santa Monica has just cause eviction protections, and tenants cannot be evicted just because a bank forecloses on the property.”

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