A former West Hollywood tenant who faced up to 12 years in prison and $30,000 in fines for lying to the city's Rent Stabilization Commission pleaded guilty to a lesser charge this week, ending the city's first prosecution of a tenant under its tough, 4-year-old rent control law.
Douglas Gelvin, 33, of Los Angeles pleaded guilty Tuesday to one felony charge of "making, possessing and uttering a fictitious instrument, to wit, a check" while seeking a $25 rent reduction before the commission in March, 1987.
Gelvin had faced three felony charges for preparing false documentary evidence, submitting false documentary evidence and perjury under oath before Tuesday's preliminary hearing. Each felony carries a maximum four-year prison term and $10,000 fine.
Will Repay Costs
"This definitely will send a message that the rent control law applies equally to landlords and tenants," said prosecutor Iver Bye, deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County. Bye spoke after Gelvin entered his plea at a preliminary hearing.
Under the plea bargain agreement worked out in Beverly Hills Municipal Court, Gelvin will serve three years of probation and reimburse West Hollywood for costs incurred in its investigation, estimated at $5,000, said Bye. The maximum sentence for the felony is a three-year jail term and $10,000 fine.
Gelvin is the first tenant to face criminal prosecution under West Hollywood's law, but at least two dozen landlords or their agents have been prosecuted since the law was enacted in 1985. The city, where an estimated 85% of residents are renters, last year began a "get tough" policy against rent control violators.
Gelvin's lawyer said at the time of his client's arrest and arraignment in May that city officials sought to make an example of him. But he praised county prosecutors Tuesday for their fair treatment of the criminal case.
"I think the agreement was a fair disposition," said Charles R. English, partner in the Santa Monica firm of Chaleff & English. "It was a stupid, irresponsible act on behalf of my client, and he's very remorseful about it."
'Bit of Overkill'
English, a criminal defense lawyer and president-elect of the Los Angeles County Bar Foundation, had called the original charges and penalties against Gelvin "a bit of overkill." Gelvin refused comment and referred questions to his attorney. English said his client worked as a manager for a Los Angeles company that he declined to identify.
City officials denied that they singled Gelvin out as an example to other tenants.
"Well, I think his actions speak for themselves. It wasn't so much (that Gelvin was prosecuted because he was a tenant). Mr. Gelvin was prosecuted because his actions came before the attention" of the rent board, said Steven H. Rosenblit, West Hollywood city prosecutor, after Gelvin's plea.
"There was absolutely no desire to make an example of anybody. This was simply an alleged felony that we discovered that we then submitted to the district attorney's office," said a West Hollywood rent commission hearing examiner at the trial.
Gelvin admitted falsifying personal checks while attempting to reduce his $548 monthly rent two years ago before the Rent Stabilization Commission, when he accused his landlord of eliminating one of two parking spaces to which he was entitled.
At that time, a hearing examiner reduced Gelvin's rent at his 949 Larrabee St. apartment by $10 a month, after Gelvin presented several canceled checks with notations indicating that the rent check included money for "extra parking."
But Gelvin appealed the decision, insisting he was entitled to a $25 reduction. During the appeal, the landlord, Ashkenazy Management Co., presented bank photocopies of the checks Gelvin had offered at the earlier hearing that did not contain the notations.
This week, Gelvin admitted that he entered notations on some checks after they were cashed to make it appear that he was paying for the extra parking space.
"It was a thoughtless act that he's paying substantially for, but that's life," said English.
Bye, the prosecutor, said mitigating factors led to the reduced charge. According to Bye, some of the checks Gelvin submitted to the rent commission as evidence in 1987 included authentic notations of parking payments. Gelvin apparently falsified others in the belief that he was clarifying the payments, the prosecutor said.
It also was taken into account that Gelvin has no criminal record, Bye said.
Under the negotiated felony charge, Gelvin also has the option of requesting that his conviction be reduced to a misdemeanor if he meets probation requirements, Bye said, an option not allowed under the original charges.
Formal sentencing was set for Sept. 19 by Municipal Judge Judith O. Stein, who presided over Tuesday's hearing.