Southern California

Tenants, Landlord Clash Over Apartments Damaged by Leaking Roof

An East Hollywood apartment building had a stripped roof for ongoing repairs when rains hit Southern California in early December, so it's now life with water stained walls and floors, but without ceilings and cabinets for tenants.

 "This is not right for us," said Matilda Castillo, who, like her neighbors, has chosen to remain, even though her unit now lacks a functioning kitchen.

Following the rains, building management quickly began demolition work on the apartment building. But that came to a halt after residents raised questions about notification and their relocation during the repairs, so lawyers became involved.

"The landlord and management are doing everything the can to get these tenants' apartments repaired as soon as possible," an email statement from attorney Niv Davidovich reads.

But residents and families expressed distrust.

"We're just fearful," said Joe Aguila, whose mother is a tenant. "We don't want to lose our homes."

Rents are stabilized in the building at 1144 N. Westmoreland Ave.--currently under $1,600 for Castillo's two bedroom--and several of the tenants said they suspect management wants them to leave for good. Castillo said her family was offered $20,000 to relocate permanently. They declined, she said, out of concern they could not afford the rent at a comparable apartment.

That an offer was made to residents to relocate permanently was acknowledged by Davidovich.

"That offer was rejected," Davidovich wrote in an email. "The landlord has now made offers to relocate temporarily, and we are still waiting for a response from tenant's attorney."

Tensions escalated last week when the landlord posted notices of needed unit access, but the date and day were out of sync.  Several residents cited that in denying access when personnel arrived on Friday.

Later, in another notice demanding tenants quit occupancy within three days, management asserted that, in denying access, tenants had violated their rental agreement.

That was decried as "bad faith," in the view of Daniel Lavi, lead attorney of The Tenants Law Firm, a nonprofit that is representing the renters. "The Tenants are simply looking for a way to have a win-win solution," Lavi wrote in an email statement.

Residents contend deferred maintenance has been a recurring problem. A partial ceiling collapse was reported in Unit 6 after the early rain in October. As it was, the roof was stripped for a re-do just days before the early month rains.  Davidovich said work was delayed, first by a contractor issue, and then to await a city inspection.

Plastic sheeting was put down, but proved no match for the heavy rain.

The repaired roof was still awaiting final sign-off when a Building and Safety inspector arrived Monday. A city housing inspector also arrived to examine the interior damage.

Tenants have been notified property management will need access again Tuesday.

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