SANTA MONICA—The Santa Monica City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division filed a lawsuit against two local landlords who allegedly violated a law that protects tenants against harassment on Friday, July 14.

The lawsuit, filed on Tuesday, July 11 in Santa Monica Superior Court, names landlord Ante Trinidad and the Adef Luzuriaga Trust as the defendants doing business as SanMo17 Property. The suit alleges that after purchasing a nine-unit apartment building in July 2016, the defendants immediately targeted three long-term tenants who were paying below-market rent with harassment tactics, according to the press release from the city of Santa Monica. The tactics were employed in a manner intended to make the tenants vacate, so that the landlords could obtain higher rent rates from new tenants.

According to the lawsuit, the landlords allegedly forced tenants’ existing roommates to vacate using “fraudulent and coercive tactics” and improperly refused to allow the tenants to obtain other roommates. They also conducted “bogus and intrusive inspections” of the tenants’ units.

The defendants allegedly coerced one of the tenants into believing that his roommate and partner, who had lived there for years with permission from the previous owner, would have to vacate the unit with their three children. The tenant was forced to leave Santa Monica with his family to find housing in Inglewood, giving up his longtime home and a short commute to his workplace of over 30 years, within walking distance of the apartment building.

The roommate of another tenant was allegedly coerced into leaving his two-bedroom apartment, though he had been a resident of the building before the current landlords took over. The defendants then rejected the tenant’s three roommate candidates, preventing them from completing the approval process, according to the suit.

Under Santa Monica’s Tenant Harassment Ordinance, landlords are prohibited from forcing tenants to vacate through fraud, intimidation, or coercion.

“Long-term tenants paying below-market rents sometimes face harassment tactics when the landlord can’t find good cause to evict them,” said Deputy City Attorney Gary Rhoades. “But those tenants have protection under Santa Monica law.”