A pair of disabled apartment dwellers in Santa Monica who already fought off their landlords' attempts to take away their parking now face the prospect of having their spots moved to tandem spaces that aren't close enough to their units, the Santa Monica City Attorney's Office says.

The tandem spots, of course, also would mean that one of the tenants would have to come out and play musical cars if her vehicle is behind her neighbor's. One of the tenants has been in her unit since 1982, the other since 1995. Both are protected by Santa Monica's famous rent-control ordinance.

The City Attorney's Office this week announced that it's taking the owners of the building on Seventh Street to court over this parking situation.

The suit alleges violation of the city's anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Assistant City Attorney Gary Rhoades told us that the city's anti-discrimination ordinance as it applies to folks with disabilities mirrors state law.

In a statement he explained it this way:

Under the fair housing laws, once a tenant presents medical documentation showing that she needs a housing accommodation because of her disability, then the landlord must provide the accommodation.

The landlords, Ben Leeds (doing business as Ben Leeds Property Management), Fidel Alonso and Crenshaw Two LLC, had given the tenants until March 4 to move their vehicles to the new parking arrangement. But so far, Rhoades said, the owners haven't cracked down despite the tenants' resistance to moving their cars.

“Apparently,” the attorney said, the landlords are “mulling over” their next move following notification of the city's suit.

The filing alleges that one of the tenants was already once denied her parking spot in July, “forcing her to park on the street.” Both ended up parking at the curb “for many months,” the suit says, before the City Attorney's Office intervened and persuaded the landlords to back down.

But here we are again. On Feb. 2, the filing claims, the tenants' parking arrangement was again “terminated.” 

The suit argues that the owners “singled out” the two to impose “unfair” parking arrangements. And this happened after the disabled tenants filed “fair housing complaints” against the landlords, the claim says.

Prosecutors argue that state and city laws pretty much mandate that “reasonable parking accommodation” requests by disabled tenants must be granted. The suit calls the owners' actions “willful, deliberate and malicious,” and it seeks $10,000 per violation in damages as well as corrective action.

It's the second anti-discrimination lawsuit involving disabled tenants in Santa Monica this year.

We asked Rhoades why landlords who have already clashed with prosecutors over parking would continue to push the issue.

He made it clear that he's not making this allegation here, but he did note that some landlords dealing with rent-control tenants have done a lot to make life uncomfortable for them so they'll leave, freeing up the units to be rented out at more contemporary rent prices.

The attorney told us:

Generally, we’re seeing both denials and unnecessary delays by owners in responding to tenants’ requests for reasonable accommodations. These delays cause a great amount of stress for the tenants with disabilities who might have to give up a much-needed proximate parking space and would then have to move to a new apartment with proximate parking.

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