A group of residents vigorously opposed to increasing rents at an apartment complex on Amberwood Drive in the city, have attended the past four City Council meetings, expressing their discontent while pushing local government to place a citywide moratorium on future hikes.
Tenants at 1645 and 1653 Amberwood Drive, filling the council chamber, have made it known they want help in stopping increases as their rents are expected to go up substantially, in some instances as much as 50 percent, as early as the end of the month.
An ad hoc committee, consisting of Mayor Pro Tem Michael Cacciotti and Councilmember Marina Khubesrian has been established to work with the tenants and the property owner in an effort to resolve the situation.
South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez, keeping a careful eye on the situation, said he is sympathetic to the needs of the renters but also understands the intentions of the property owner and investors to receive fair market value for the apartments.
“The renters are in the crossfire of a new owner who purchased the property who wants to improve the property but has a group of investors who want to make a reasonable return on their investment,” explained Gonzalez. “The question is, how fast should those rents go up. Anytime you increase rents by 40 to 60 percent over a two month period, regardless what that baseline is, it can be detrimental to some people who may not be able to afford it.”
The city manager said “the City Council is looking at this very closely and contemplating what actions they can take by complying with state law,” he said. “Whatever decision they ultimately come up with, they have to be legally defensible. Therefore, the City Council felt it would be advantageous to establish an ad hoc committee, consisting of two council members to really dig deep and look at the situation.”
A two-hour meeting between the property management and some Amberwood Terrace residents, along with ad hoc members Cacciotti and Khubesrian, was held last Thursday afternoon at City Hall. “We facilitated what we feel was positive dialogue between the two parties,” explained Gonzalez. “We think there was some progress made where the tenants and the landlord came to a tentative agreement to giving the tenants some relief in the next couple of months. We talked about an inconvenience fee credit that the landlord was willing to provide for having tenants living through those conditions as the owner makes improvements.”
The issue was raised during the meeting, according to Gonzalez, that the new owners did not create the current conditions at the complex. “The apartment buildings had been neglected for decades and the manager we met with represents investors who want to make improvements, realizing it’s going to be an inconvenience for those living there,” he said, noting that the new rents current ownership wants to impose on the tenants “are the new reality. When the property was sold, the increase in property tax escalated for the new owners from approximately $30,000 a year to over $200,000 a year. Obviously, that has to come from somewhere, and the new owners have to pass that along to the tenants. But the bottom line, we feel we had a positive meeting and we feel there’s some progress in mediating the differences between the tenants at Amberwood Terrace and ownership. The agreement I think will be reached would provide tenants with a rent credit for the inconvenience of the construction going on, which essentially functions as a reprieve or lower rent for the next couple of months. The rents are still going up, but the rent credit will help them during the next couple of months.”
One, two and three bedroom units at Amberwood Terrace are all facing increases, according to Gonzalez, acknowledging that most have two bedrooms. “We believe the rents for the one bedroom are going from around $800 to $900 to about $1,400 per month,” he said. “The two bedroom were about $1,300 (per month) and are expected to go up to approximately $1,800 and the three bedroom will go up from roughly $1,600 to $2,100.”
Gonzalez stressed that concerns about increasing rents is not unique to South Pasadena. “Housing prices are a challenge,” he said. “Many people are having trouble keeping up with rents and mortgages. Just in general, the real estate market is not favorable to renters and buyers.” Cacciotti and Khubesrian, according to Gonzalez, are “going to give up a lot of their time to study the issue, then come back to the City Council in a reasonable amount of time with a recommendation on how to deal with this issue.”
About a dozen residents living at the apartment complex voiced their concerns about increasing rents at last week’s City Council meeting with the underlying message they’d like to see a rent increase moratorium.
“Residents of 1653 & 1645 Amberwood Drive have banded together to fight disrespectful and condescending treatment from the building’s new owner, Jerry Wise, and property managers, RST & Associates,” said in a letter sent to the South Pasadena Review by South Pasadena Tenants Union .org. “In addition to receiving a nearly 50% increase in rent ($600 dollars or more), tenants have been living in unsafe conditions, with rats, cockroaches, mold, plumbing, and electrical problems. Tenants have remained in both complexes while major construction has begun. The owner’s contractors act carelessly and without regard: damaging personal items, using balconies as storage units, blowing dirt into apartments, violating the construction time ordinance by starting before 8am, and working without necessary permits. Trash and paint chips litter the property, along with construction material (wood beams, exposed rusted nails, and debris). In a recent test, lead paint was found in the support beams of the building, and necessary precautions needed to protect residents from exposure have not been taken.”
Gonzalez heard the concerns of the tenants during last week’s council meeting as some demanded the council to take immediate action. “We unfortunately have a situation where people are being priced out because it’s a very appealable city to live in, one that is safe, has great schools and amenities. About a year ago, South Pasadena was ranked 13th in some survey as one of the best cities for renters in Southern California. So, while the rents may be increasing for this specific complex, we are still considered to be an affordable place to live if you’re a renter, given what you get in return – a safe community, great schools and city amenities.”