Benjamin Schonbrun files lawsuit against Snap, Inc. in connection to January fire
By Dolores Quintana
A Venice property owner is suing Snapchat for vacating a building that later burned down.
Benjamin Schonbrun, owner of the building at 723 Ocean Front Walk, has filed a lawsuit against
Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, and a number of other defendants for a fire that destroyed the building on January, 13, 2021 as reported by Business Insider. The building was 68 years old and had 6,952 square feet of commercial space that spanned from the addresses of roughly 600 to 723 Ocean Front Walk in the Venice Boardwalk area. The lawsuit was filed on Sept. 8, 2021 and also names Snapchat, CNA Financial Corporation, Continental Casualty Company, Hanasab Insurance Services, Inc., City of Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles City Council Member Michael Bonin in the U.S. District Court.
Snapchat was founded in Venice in 2011 and eventually leased a number of different addresses in the area after their number of employees expanded as their business grew in size and the company went public in 2017. The company had a contentious relationship with the Venice communtiy since their need for so much space to accommodate their workforce and the leasing of so many properties led to charges that they were engaging in gentrification. The accusation was that their extensive leasing of so many properties was causing long term community members and their small businesses to have to vacate their businesses’ premises with very little notice. Venice is now one of the priciest neighborhoods in Los Angeles.
Schonbrun alleges in his lawsuit that “In September 2018, Snap vacated the premises and ceased maintaining the premises, as it was obligated to do under the lease agreement, thus abandoning both the premises and their legal duties and responsibilities under the terms of the lease contract” and furthermore that “Snap signed a lease for the premises through March 2022 that made the company responsible for its upkeep and security, adding that it failed to maintain both since moving.” as reported by Business Insider.
However, as reported by the Westside Current, an unhoused woman who was a witness to the fire reported that she had been living near the building and in the alleyway for five years or since 2016. At that time, Snapchat was still in Venice and didn’t start to vacate the buildings in Venice until April of 2018. The article also states that the fire that destroyed the building was not the first fire that erupted in the alleyway. A video posted by the account Venice Safety on Youtube and shot by resident Jeff Leahy shows another fire that broke out in October of 2020. While this is not proof that Snapchat is not liable, it does potentially show that the encampments existed before Snapchat vacated the building and were a longer term issue. Housing for the homeless is a controversial issue that is facing the city of Los Angeles both because of the Covid 19 pandemic and the numbers of encampments all around the city. This fire shows the chilling potential for loss of life among the unhoused or residents of buildings and large scale property damage. The fire that destroyed the building did not cause any deaths or injuries.
Schonbrun is seeking $8 million dollars in damages from an estimate of $2.5 million to rebuild the building and additional damages from trebling or asking the court for three times the amount due to deliberate wrongdoing. In this case, the trebling damage request comes from charges in Schonbrun’s lawsuit that Snapchat and the insurance companies engaged in “fraud, breach of contract, and bad-faith insurance”. Mayor Garcetti and Councilmember Bonin are part of the lawsuit for allegedly being aware of the encampment and not taking action to disperse it as reported to Business Insider.
Snapchat has issued no comment regarding the lawsuit after being contacted for this article.