After “dehumanizing” conditions and rent increases, SP tenants approach city council

Written by Dominic Marziali and Peter Wang
Staff Writer, Associate Opinion Editor

Photo by Brandon Yung
Online Managing Editor

The tenants of 265 Monterey Road currently face substantial rent increases and safety concerns. Despite repeated complaints to the building’s management, the Housing Rights Center, and the South Pasadena City Council, they have yet to see a resolution.

Three residents spoke during the November 15 South Pasadena city council meeting to protest the renovation-caused hazards and costs. According to one commenter, monthly rent has increased by over 40% to $1400, while living conditions and safety have degraded due to the disruptive renovation on windows and walkways. The fire department found the building to be structurally failing in 2001, but no notable repairs or inspections have happened since then. Residents reported that despite to the recent renovations, conditions are worse than before.

The renovation process started in January 2017, when the building was purchased by the Extell group, a major real estate holding company. Residents claimed that the hired contractors violated building safety codes by refusing to take proper safety measures. The residents provided multiple pictures of left debris in hallways and the garage, and also provided evidence of an inadequate foundation for a load-bearing column, which could collapse in the event of an earthquake. The gate to the pool was allegedly removed and never replaced, which posed a drowning risk to young children. Residents accused Paul Wong, the property manager, of approving the dangerous and supposedly illegal practices.

Although the contractors themselves wore dust-filtering masks, they did not cover windows and furniture in occupied rooms while working outside, and let dust and debris in. Some contractors also smoked while working and spat on the floor. One resident experienced pneumonia and bronchitis after renovations began.

“When we had our old windows cut out with an electric saw, they did not put anything to cover the debris from coming into my apartment,” one resident said. “Walking into it looked as if I was walking into a fog, and you could taste the dust. Because of this my daughter was taken to the emergency room because she couldn’t breathe. X-rays showed bacteria and liquid were in her lungs, and it was caused by all the dust she was inhaling.”

Another resident shared of her experience with the dust, in which her son—who has a compromised immune system—had to be taken to urgent care multiple times. On the day of the council meeting, she kept her son at home because he was coughing the night before.

Residents testified of additional dangers, including nails that were left in the parking lot, which damaged tires on their vehicles. They have not been reimbursed for repair fees. Contractors also left wires hanging on the side of the building which were later used in an attempted burglary, as a man attempted to climb onto to the balcony.

In response, Wong delivered a statement on behalf of the owners. Wong stated that he will immediately contact workers who are violating building code or causing issues with residents. However, residents alleged that Wong previously received multiple reports of the issue, and promised to contact workers, but the issues persisted. The owners claimed that rent increases were necessary to offset the costs of renovation.

Councilmember Mahmud identified a direct violation of municipal building ordinance, as the contractors began working at 7 AM, while the city prohibits any construction activity before 8 AM. No investigation or fine for the alleged violations has been issued by the city yet, and no action has been taken for the rent issue prior to the council meeting.

The council ultimately decided to meet with the property owners to negotiate a slower rate of rent increase. According to the council, this will ensure that the building can remain affordable yet profitable. The city used the same approach to improve a similar situation at the Golden Oaks apartments, in which a dilapidated complex received new ownership and steep rent hikes.

“We have such a story shaping up here in our city,” said John Srebalus, co-head of the South Pasadena Tenants Union. “We have three people on fixed incomes, two widows, one of whom has a child with extraordinary needs. [And] here we have a real estate speculator, who doesn’t seem to have a moral or ethical problem with sending this letter [of rent increase]. Who will write an ending for these people?”

Srebalus was not satisfied with the course of action taken by the city. He claims that rent control legislation must be enacted to improve the unreasonable rates across the city.

“This council doesn’t care about rent,” Srebalus said of the council’s decision. “They care enough to make consoling statements.”

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