In December 2016, Anastasia Foster was doing her regular rounds of food delivery as a Meals on Wheels volunteer, but when she arrived at 220 San Vicente Boulevard, her longtime customer, Suzette Glickman, was nowhere to be found.
Glickman was a controlled tenant in her eighties who had lived in the building for 38 years. She was partially amputated and had several disabilities that prevented her from leaving her unit, so her absence set Foster an immediate alarm.
After contacting the facility manager, Foster eventually found Glickman in dire straits. For hours she was in an empty unit with no water, no food, no electricity, no way of lifting herself from the overcrowded two-seater chair on which she was seated and without knowing when someone would come for her.
The property management had moved her to do an unnecessary cosmetic upgrade in the hallway outside her apartment and had only notified her the night before. Foster was appalled at the time, but little did not know that this was just the tip of the iceberg regarding the abuse alleged by the tenants of 220 San Vicente.
Five years later, Foster stopped volunteering at San Vicente 220 because she was on the building as a commissioner on the rental control committee, where it was the largest consolidated case in the agency’s history. The case ended on September 9 with Foster and her colleagues approving tenants in 17 residential units a total of $ 642,645 in rent reductions for damage sustained during construction spanning more than half a decade.
“We had other cases before this group, before this commission, similar in tone, similar in content, similar in nature, but never quite as high as this incredibly high pain threshold – physical pain, emotional pain, psychological pain – that people were. “Pay to hold out,” said Foster.
Tenants’ problems began in June 2015 when Brad Korzen bought the building under San Vicente Tower SPE, LLC. Korzen is CEO of Kor Group, which lists 220 San Vicente as part of its portfolio along with several other luxury residential and hotel properties, including the Downtown Santa Monica Proper Hotel.
According to a report from the hearing officer of the case, Tracy Mattie-Daub, shortly after purchasing the property, the owner began “making major changes to the appearance of the space by embarking on an overhaul of the entire property”.
Over the next six years, tenants had to grapple with a seemingly endless series of inconveniences, loss of amenities, disruptions, hazards and delays.
From November 4, 2015 to May 17, 2018 alone, there were at least 48 water closures. Elevator repairs, originally estimated at six weeks, took 61. A two-month exterior paint project lasted nearly six months.
The petitioners said that pressing concrete caused a deafening noise. One resident, Ted Chan, had to hear for days how two metal railings were cut into pieces right in front of his apartment as part of a balcony railing exchange project.
“We are entitled to recognition when there is so much noise that people cannot work at home, cannot make phone calls, cannot speak in person, cannot videoconferencing when the water is turned off, which people cannot can use toilets, people cannot wash their hands, people cannot shower, ”Chan said during a meeting of the rental control committee on September 9th.
While the 1972 building was in need of renovation, Mattie-Daub concluded that most of the renovations were unnecessary modernizations.
“No evidence was presented to demonstrate that it required demolition, major remodeling, and complete material replacement in renovated units in order to maintain or re-rent the units,” wrote Mattie-Daub. “The new and improved features were chosen to match the owner’s plans to give the property a modern, upscale look and feel, with the unspoken goal of offering the renovated units at much higher rents.”
The building’s website is currently promoting recently renovated units with “new hardwood floors, updated oak furniture, and sophisticated quartz bathroom countertops,” and encouraging potential tenants to “live in luxury in the San Vicente Tower.”
In order to facilitate the conversion of vacant units and the installation of washing machines and dryers, existing tenants were repeatedly forced to leave their units for several hours at a time.
During the construction process, tenants also regularly lost access to their facilities such as the pool, parking lots, elevators and laundry room.
If renovation of these facilities was deemed necessary, tenants were not entitled to rent reductions, but received several reductions due to inadequate construction or unreasonably long construction time.
Some tenants have been relocated to temporary units for several months to allow repairs to their existing units.
Tenant Bill Davids was ousted for six months and tenant Paula Wylot for eight months. Wylot was granted a rent discount on the basis that she was paying the same rent to live in a substandard apartment, and Davids was given a discount for unreasonable construction time and damage to his property by the builders.
The construction project also raised health and safety concerns.
The owner voluntarily chose to remove existing popcorn ceilings, a process that exposes asbestos. Although the tenants were entitled to information about the results of the asbestos tests, the owner declined to provide it. In addition, building investigators have reported on several occasions that failures have been achieved in reducing dust and inadequate protection from airborne pollutants.
“It’s a combination and an attack on the senses of vibration, noise, dust, missing elevator, missing parking lot, laundry stopped, power off, power off, water off, said Foster, summarizing the situation of the tenants. “It is a persistent assault on a person’s well-being and right to quiet enjoyment.”
The petition process began in March 2018 and included 22 hearings, over 250 exhibits and an appeal process. Tenants who survived the lengthy process were rewarded with an average of 20 to 24 months of freedom from rent.
Six households that initially filed petitions decided to leave the building before their case was closed. Foster’s former customer of Meals on Wheels passed away before getting help.
The renovations in San Vicente 220 are still ongoing, as is the fear of long-term renters, many of whom in Santa Monica would not be able to afford marketable homes if they lost their homes.
“If you’re a long-term tenant in Santa Monica, no one is going to address the consequences of ignoring offers to buy,” said 31-year-old renter Bill Davids. “You should be very careful what you say to the management of a building that is being renovated because you feel like they have the upper hand.”
Davids claims that he continues to suffer daily from building renovations that have put eight air conditioning condensers directly under his unit.
“When a lot of them collapse, my apartment sounds like I’m above the Titanic’s engine room,” Davids said. “I only sleep four or five hours, and that’s mainly because of the concentration of capacitors under my apartment, so you can literally rent the renovated apartments for three times that.”
While the rent reductions granted mean a victory for the tenants, the rental tax authorities are limited in their legal options for relief. The board was unable to approve acceptance of the Davids capacitors as they are not part of the ongoing construction.
In addition, hearing officers cannot grant reductions to more than 100 percent of a tenant’s rent. The Hearing Officer reported that without that restriction, she would have approved much larger rent reductions for tenants of 220 San Vicente.
“The Rent Act has some pretty robust solutions for tenants and landlords, but in some cases it can’t possibly go far enough,” said Foster. “Tenants in this city have every right to hire lawyers and seek justice in court.”
The property owner did not respond to a request for comment.
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