Many in attendance at last week’s City Council meeting were angered as a result of rent increases at 1645 and 1653 Amberwood Drive in South Pasadena.
“The new owner is making some improvements and he wants to bring the buildings up to parity with other apartments,” explained South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez. “The renters agree they have been paying lower rent than what is average for the city, but they also expressed some concerns about the conditions they live in.”
Some of the tenants of the apartments, speaking on behalf of those at last week’s council meeting, were seeking support from city government in their request for lower rents. “Since it wasn’t on the council agenda, they spoke during public comment and the City Council couldn’t go into details, but they were pleading us to get some assistance from the city to help them with the situation of increasing rents,” said Gonzalez.
During last week’s council meeting and again on October 5, tenants vigorously complained about what they viewed as substantial rent increases.
In a letter to the South Pasadena City Council, the complex’s owner, Jerry Wise, wrote that the buildings have been neglected over the years and upgrades and maintenance are necessary. “Some of the work has already started, including renovating the pools and repainting the exteriors,” Wise wrote. “When we purchased the building, we realized that we would need to spend significant time and effort to improve the property to our high standards, and to match the standards of the surrounding community on Raymond Hill. We agonized over whether it would be best to just vacate the buildings entirely and start from scratch, but decided in the end that we didn’t want to upend our tenant’s lives by displacing them. Instead, we have decided to only bring rents to mark on units that vacate the units over time.”
The asking price for similar rents on Raymond Hill and surrounding areas, according to Wise, range as low as $2,100 to a high of $2,500 per month. “We set the rent for our two bedroom units for existing tenants at $1,895, which is at least $300 below any of our neighbors,” wrote Wise in his letter to the City Council. “We have a similar lower rent structure for our one and three bedroom units, which are also at least $300 below other buildings in the area. We are remodeling units that become vacant, and intend to lease those at market rents.”
The tenants in attendance at the council meeting “expressed that they needed help sooner that later, insisting they need it now,” said Gonzalez, noting that the City Council has directed the city manager to reach out to the Amberwood property owner. “The council wants to see if there’s a way to delay or postpone or phase in the increases over time and not have them come into effect in the middle of the holiday season.”
In his letter, Wise added: “We would be happy to invite you on a tour of the property and the surrounding area to view our improvement, and to discuss any recommendations you might have for us, as we are intending to be long time members of the community.”
Gonzalez admits there’s little the city can do in the face of increasing rents. “Immediately, we can’t do anything,” he said. “Some cities have enacted rent control which basically has the city intervene between property owner and the tenant so rents do not escalate too quickly. One thing we’ve done is give our residents more resources.”
The City of South Pasadena has contracted with the Housing Rights Center, which provides renters with information regarding fair housing laws, evictions, rent increases, security deposits, illegal practices, mediation services and more. “They inform tenants what their rights are,” explained Gonzalez, “and provide avenues to deal with living conditions and high increases in rents.
The City Council will look a establishing an ad hoc committee consisting of two council members to “really dig into this issue,” stressed Gonzalez. “The bottom line is more than half of the people living in South Pasadena are renters and they are a very important component of our neighborhoods. Together with home owners, they contribute to the city making for an economic and culturally diverse city.”
The City of South Pasadena and the Housing Rights Center will present a free Housing Rights Workshop on Friday, November 4, from 5 to 7 p.m., at the South Pasadena Public Library, 1115 El Centro Street. Landlord and tenants’ rights and responsibilities will be addressed.
For more information, call Yazmin Guzman at the Housing Rights Center, (800) 477-5977, ext. 1104. Or firstname.lastname@example.org.