The Santa Monica Rent Control Board has ordered its staff to provide more information on pending cases after learning that it overlooked complaints lodged against a landlord who was allowed to convert his building to a hotel.
But the board added that it cannot legally reconsider the hotel exemption given to Daryoush Nourafchan, owner of the Cal Mar Hotel at 220 California Ave., because the application was approved several weeks ago.
"We're only allowed to reconsider something at the meeting where the matter was discussed," said Howell Tumlin, board administrator. "Had there been some evidence of fraud it would have been different. But that wasn't the case. It just appears that there was more to the story than we knew."
The oversight was called to the board's attention last month by Eleonora Swanson, a former tenant who is fighting eviction from Nourafchan's building. Swanson reported that the board had voted without reviewing Nourafchan's file, which contains several complaints of rent control violations at the Cal Mar Hotel. In addition, she complained that the board had ignored her request to speak against the property owner.
After reviewing Swanson's complaint, Tumlin confirmed that a Nourafchan staff report used by the board had omitted details about his past tenant disputes. In addition, Tumlin said the board apparently misplaced Swanson's request to speak at its Sept. 12 meeting, when the application was approved.
The board agreed to hear Swanson's complaints at last week's meeting. Tumlin said the board has offered to review her eviction, but added that her case may not qualify for board assistance.
"Our initial impression is that we can't help her," Tumlin said, "because the issue seems to be about whether or not she paid her rent . . . not about whether the property was under rent control jurisdiction." Cases involving disputes over payment of rent are generally referred to Municipal Court.
Nourafchan has refused to comment on Swanson's complaint. Tumlin said the board's file on Nourafchan goes back to 1979, when five tenants and one former tenant of the Cal Mar Hotel alleged that he tried to circumvent the rent control law by serving eviction notices on all but one of the tenants in the 36-unit building.
A board investigator supported the tenants and recommended that the board bring criminal charges against Nourafchan. He concluded that at least seven of the units were legally protected by rent control and that Nourafchan had chosen to "ignore or evade" taxes on the building.
The city attorney's office charged Nourafchan with illegally evicting tenants in 1980, but the charges were dropped under a plea bargaining agreement that required Nourafchan to register seven of his units with the rent board and apply for exemptions for the remaining units.
Swanson, who had lived in the building since 1974, learned of her own eviction in July. Swanson said she was in New York when Nourafchan informed her by letter that she was being evicted for failing to pay her April rent.
Swanson produced records of her April rent payment and hired an attorney to fight the eviction. But when she returned to California she discovered that her property had been removed and her apartment rented to someone else.
A bitter Swanson said she hopes to get back her apartment and she expected the board to take a stronger interest in her case. Rent Board Commissioner Wayne Bauer said that, based on what he knows of the case, he has encouraged Swanson to fight the eviction. But he conceded that the board probably will not intervene. Bauer added, however, that the board is committed to avoiding such problems in the future.
"If a property has a history of litigation and disputes, it needs to be brought to our attention," Bauer said. "It's likely that public scrutiny (of the board) will continue and we need to be able to explain our positions."