Donald Sterling’s wife Tuesday defended her actions in the wake of a 2009 blaze at a West Hollywood apartment building she co-owned with her husband, which resulted in a lawsuit brought by a tenant who alleges the fire detection system was not fully operational.
Shelly Sterling said she wanted an immediate installation of new fire warning horns after it was determined that only two of the 54 in each unit worked on the day actress Robyn Cohen alleges she lost all of her belongings. But Sterling said they were not fully put in place until February 2010 because construction workers had to first finish reconstructing walls damaged in the fire.
“You can’t build a place with a roof before you have the foundation,” she said.
Sterling said she did not spare expenses in getting the work done.
“I wanted the system to be first-class,” she said.
Sterling said she only found out within the past few months from her accounting staff that Cohen was charged for additional rent after her unit burned.
“When I found out, I instructed them to send her money back,” she said, adding that the check included interest.
Cohen sued the Sterlings for property losses she says she suffered as a result of the Sept. 28, 2009, blaze in the building at 888 W. Knoll Drive.
Cohen, whose acting credits include a role in Wes Anderson’s comedy- drama “The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou,” lived in the building for a decade, saying she stayed so long in part because it was under the city’s rent control ordinance.
A retrial of Cohen’s lawsuit is in its second week. She alleges Sterling failed to keep the building in a habitable condition and that the alarm system was not operating properly at the time of the fire, which was caused by an electrical problem in a heater fan in another unit.
Sterling told jurors the structure is one of 130 buildings she and her billionaire husband, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, own through their company, Beverly Hills Properties.
Kim Webster, a former cast member on “The West Wing,” also lived in the building. She and several other tenants also sued the Sterlings in Los Angeles Superior Court in January 2010, but settled with the defendants before the first trial, which resulted in a $17.3 million verdict in favor of Cohen that was later overturned by a judge.
The Sterlings bought the building in 2000.