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Apartment owner fined more than $600,000

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San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis announced Friday her office, in conjunction with the district attorneys of Los Angeles and Santa Clara counties, settled a consumer protection lawsuit against one of the largest owners of apartment buildings in the United States.

The lawsuit, filed in Santa Clara Superior Court, alleged that Archstone-Smith presented its tenants with water bills that were based in part on estimates rather than actual measurements, in violation of state laws.

“Our office filed a civil law enforcement action in the name of the People of the State of California alleging that Archstone-Smith engaged in untrue or misleading advertising and unfair competition,” Dumanis said. “The individuals who rented apartments in San Diego from this company and had water bills estimated will now be compensated.”

Archstone-Smith agreed to settle the case, and the court ordered the company to pay a total of $637,140 in penalties and costs. The violations were discovered by state and county weights and measures officials in seven California counties.

The court ordered Archstone-Smith to pay restitution to tenants and former tenants of affected apartment complexes. Individuals who rented apartments from Archstone-Smith from July 16, 2002, through July 30, 2005, will receive $3.08 for each month that they paid a water bill if they lived in any of the following San Diego County complexes: Escondido (1361 W. 9th St., Escondido), Seascape (6938 Seascape, Carlsbad), La Jolla (8506 Villa La Jolla Dr., La Jolla) and University Towne Center (7936 Navidad, San Diego).

Eligible tenants will be contacted by a company hired by Archstone-Smith to handle restitution payments. Payments could total more than $500,000.

Archstone-Smith cooperated with the prosecutors and stipulated to the entry of the final judgment, which also requires the business not to violate similar laws in the future.

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