Tenant Frustrated by Slow Fixes to His Rent-Controlled Apartment

A man's frustration over lag times for apartment fixes personifies a larger problem, tenants' rights advocates say.

There's no welcome mat at Gary Huffman's Van Nuys rent-controlled apartment.

He's had to step inside onto a slab of concrete for months.

"I think it's despicable that it's gone on for this long," Huffman said. "I can't invite people into my home. I mean, I'm embarrassed."

Slow repair times can just be a tactic designed to frustrate tenants in rent-controlled apartments, a way to get them to leave, so the rates can be restored to market value, tenants' rights advocates say.

Huffman says in mid-August, the water pipes beneath his apartment began to leak, flooding his living, dining and work space areas.

He says property management initially responded quickly. Workers fixed the pipe, put the dirt back in and then put the concrete back in.

Two months later, Huffman says the carpet has yet to be replaced, despite notices of code violations, from LA Housing and the County Health departments.

Investigators from both agencies cited a failure to maintain safe sanitary floor covering. Workers even observed live roaches, often a symptom of flooding. The concrete was deemed a trip and fall hazard.

"It is a pattern that we've seen with this particular management company," said Elena Popp, the executive director of the Eviction Defense Network.

Popp has represented tenants rights since 1981.

Huffman has been living in a rent-controlled apartment for 24 years.

Popp says delaying repairs is a tactic used to get tenants to leave.

"This is very, very typical," she said.

Tenants in other rent-controlled apartments at the complex tell similar stories of slow or no repairs and last minute notices about major issues like water being shut off for the day.

In response to NBC4 I-Team inquires, property management officials who own Huffman's apartment complex say Huffman hasn't gotten along with the on-site property manager.

Huffman has taken complaints to the housing authority and health departments, rather than their manager, said Fidel Alonso, the chief of operations for Ben Leeds Properties, in an email, adding that he is investigating Huffman's complaints.

Huffman, a Vietnam vet who says he's lived in jungles, says it will take more than the inconvenience of reconfiguring his home around moisture and exposed concrete to get him to give up the home that only costs him $850 a month.

"They get me outta here, spruce this up, they got $1,400 a month," he said.

If you're in a rent controlled apartment, no matter what the dispute, attorneys with the Eviction Defense Network say pay your rent.

A certified bank check is best for payment.

However you pay it, have someone witness you making the payment. If it's a personal check, make sure the landlord is cashing the check promptly, so you never slip into default.

For more information, contact Elena Popp, the executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, at 213-385-8112.

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