From the East Bay Times:
Richmond: Activists protest evictions ahead of rent control vote
Fair housing advocates have criticized the owner of a Richmond apartment complex for what they describe as an unnecessary eviction that affects many elderly and low-income residents
Jose Gonzalez, Vincent Justin, Luis Ugalde and former Richmond mayor Gayle McLaughlin, from left, listen to speakers as tenants rally at the Creekview Apartments in Richmond on Thursday, Oct. 6. Justin recently moved out after living there for 22 years. More than 100 renters are being evicted from the apartments. Tenants are demanding that the owner, PMI Properties, halt evictions and let the remaining tenants stay in the recently refurbished apartments. (Jane Tyska/Bay Area News Group)
By Karina Ioffee | email@example.com
PUBLISHED: October 7, 2016 at 8:00 am | UPDATED: October 7, 2016 at 8:07 am
RICHMOND — Since proponents of rent control announced their intent to place a measure on the November ballot, hundreds of residents throughout this working-class city have received rent increases and notices asking them to move out, according to fair housing advocates.
It has occurred in small and large apartment complexes throughout Richmond, the advocates say, with typically no reason given. Residents typically comply and quietly move out since there is, at the moment, no legal recourse to challenge such notices. Few want an eviction to mar their housing history.
But an effort that began this summer to remove 100 tenants, many of them low-income and elderly, from a local apartment complex undergoing renovations has become a lightening rod for local activists who say the situation highlights the need for both rent control and just-cause eviction. If approved, the November measure would prevent rent increases of more than 3 percent a year and require landlords to have a legitimate reason before asking someone to move out, such as not paying rent, drugs, loud parties and similar infractions. Approximately 10,000 units of rental housing and approximately 20,000 to 25,000 renters would be covered; housing built after 1995 would be exempt under state law.
“It’s too easy for landlords to evict people by saying they need to renovate,” said Leah Simon Weisberg, an attorney for Tenants Together, which has been working to advise residents who live in the Creekview Apartments. “Instead of dealing with the problems there, they are just deciding to evict people in order to circumvent the protections that are about to go into effect.”
The 194-unit apartment complex is located at 3535 El Portal Drive on the border with El Sobrante.
Beverly Hills-based PMI Properties, the company that has owned Creekview Apartments for at least two decades, has said that it needs tenants to move out in order to complete extensive repairs on the property, including water intrusion and mold in many of the units. Some work began in 2015 and has continued over the past two years, with an expected completion date of 2018.
“We needed to vacate all the units and to start doing the work because when the rains start again in a few weeks, we will have the same problems with molds and will be substantially delayed in finishing all of the units,” PMI Properties said in a statement.
The company has denied that its decision was spurred by the upcoming rent control vote, which is widely expected to pass, saying that losing rent while investing millions for repairs just to “beat rent control” does not make financial sense.
Residents, however, are not convinced.
“There have been mold problems for many years, yet they were accepting our rent no problem,” said Sharon Brown, 65, a retired telecommunications employee who has lived in the complex for six years. “Suddenly, they need us all to move out. It doesn’t make sense, especially because there are eight buildings and they could have done the remodel in stages.”
The news of the eviction hit Brown at the same time as a health scare that kept her in the hospital for weeks. Instead of focusing on recovery, she now has to spend her days filling out housing applications and browsing Craigslist. She is planning on staying with a friend and a nephew while she continues the search.
Mayor Tom Butt, an architect and an opponent of the measure, has said that rent control and just-cause eviction laws would have not stopped eviction at the apartment complex because the measure allows property owners to ask tenants to leave if improvements need to be made.
“The bottom line is that the work has to be done and the buildings have to be vacated to do it,”‘ he said. “The tenants are victims of bad design and shoddy construction, as is the owner, who is also suffering significant losses.”
PMI Properties has promised to help residents look for new housing and told them that they could reapply once the units are finished. But several residents said they have not received any assistance and instead were left to navigate the extremely tight housing market on their own. As a result, some are now staying in
motels or with relatives.
“Most places want three times the rent for your income, which is ridiculous,” said Vincent Justin, 68, a retired MUNI bus driver who lived at Creekview for 22 years before moving out October 1 to avoid eviction. He’s now staying with his daughters and ex-wife.
On its website, PMI describes its recent focus of gentrifying urban areas where the company is renovating obsolete properties into “hip, creative multifamily apartments that appeal to Generation Y, knowledge workers, the creative class and urbanites.”
Many Richmond residents can’t wait for the city to become more developed, with the coffee shops, restaurants, retail and other trappings that gentrification often brings. But others wonder who will bear the cost of such changes.
“This company does not care about the people who are living in these apartments,” said Edith Pastrano, a community organizer with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, or ACCE. “They are elderly, and they are people of color who have been good tenants for many, many years who are now being pushed out to make way for people with more money. It’s disgusting.”
Creekview owners defend decision to rebuild
Oct 5, 2016
Owners of the 194-unit Creekview Condominiums in Richmond say they are being unfairly slandered amid a vigorous campaign to pass a rent control ordinance in Richmond in the November election.
Tenants rights groups supported by the Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA) have been pushing for a rent control policy locally and in other Bay Area cities, saying rents are surging and displacing low-income residents. Despite warnings from a majority of economists that rent control policies do more harm than good, supporters gathered enough signatures this past summer to place the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot.
The measure came at an inopportune time for PMI Properties, owner of Creekview Condominiums, according to spokesman David Silver. The nine-building complex at 3535 El Portal Dr. developed a mold problem so pervasive that it needed to be vacated and rebuilt “from ground up,” Silver said.
Creekview’s decision to vacate the complex for a complete reconstruction mobilized tenants rights advocates who support Measure L, the rent control measure that would prevent landlords from increasing rents by more than the Consumer Price Index, about 2 percent a year. The policy would affect about 10,000 Richmond units and would create a rent control board estimated to cost the city between $1.5 million and $3 million annually.
Advocates and RPA members have accused Creekview of purposefully evicting tenants in advance of the possibility that voters will approve rent control on Nov. 8. They have joined tenants in holding demonstrations at the property, as well as a demonstration during a vote on rent control at Richmond City Council. Activists and tenants proclaimed the evictions were a result of greed rather than concern over the health risks from a growing mold problem.
Silver flatly denied any link between the decision to vacate residents and the impending rent control vote. He sent the Richmond Standard a “fact sheet” (posted in full below) that he says disproves claims by tenant rights advocates.
“During these years of rebuilding, we are losing millions in rents and investing millions to make the entire 194 units safe to live in,” Silver said, adding the property isn’t expected to be completed until 2018.
The RPA and supporters, according to Silver, have ignored the fact that Creekview managers had informed a majority of its residents about mold issues as early as December 2014, well before the rent control measure was put on the ballot. He said property owners have worked closely with the city of Richmond’s building staff to obtain the proper permits for the remediation and rebuild.
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, a veteran architect who opposes rent control, has backed Silver’s claims, saying the building repairs “would not be possible with tenants present.”
“Because of a combination of design flaws and construction defects, the buildings have been subjected to massive water damage that has resulted in widespread mold,” Butt said in his e-forum newsletter.
The same activists targeting Creekview were recently accused of unfairly branding an elderly Iron Triangle resident as a greedy landlord, holding protests in front of her home as part of the campaign to promote rent control as a necessary policy for the city.
Mayor Butt and Councilmember Vinay Pimple, who faced a flurry of insults after voting against a temporary moratorium on evictions, have said the RPA’s actions on rent control are mostly for the purpose of “political theater.”
Creekview ended up falsely cast a bad actor, according to Silver.
Tenants were made aware of a significant water intrusion in Building H as early as December 2014, he said. Property managers attributed it to shoddy construction when the structure was built in the early 1990s. Despite remediation attempts the mold problem only worsened. “Engineers, architects, mold specialists and health specialists” had “all agreed” the structure required total rebuilding, he said.
Then, rains this past winter invited mold in all the other buildings, Silver said. Despite relocating residents to other units during repairs, the mold problem persisted. Further investigation, including a demolition on the C and D buildings in May, led experts to conclude it was unsafe and dangerous for families to live in the complex.
Owners decided to move all tenants out for a complete rebuild prior to the coming winter rains, Silver said.
Here’s the “fact-sheet” sent by Silver:CREEKVIEW CONDOMINIUMS
- PMI Companies has been associated with the city of Richmond for 27 years and has been in business for 40 years. We are proud members of every community where we have properties, this includes Richmond.
- The Creekview Condominiums were built to provide safe housing for the residents seeking to rent/lease units.
- The entire complex includes nine buildings with a total of 194 units.
- As most of the residents became aware, on December 14, 2014, the managers of Creekview discovered a significant water intrusion issue in Building “H,” attributable to the original construction of the building in the early 1990s.
- Substantial “destructive testing,” and inspections by construction professionals, found that a quick fix to the problem was not practical or possible. There was mold within the walls of the building and it was getting worse because moisture from rain leaked into the building causing the mold growth to accelerate.
- The consensus of these experts were that the repair necessitated striping the Building “H” to its studs, which is the wooden skeleton of the building, and rebuilding the entire structure after the molds were extrapolated from the walls in each unit.
- The experts included engineers, architects, mold specialists and health specialists. They all agreed, once seeing the unhealthy mold within the structure, it required a total rebuilding.
- During the rains this past winter, some units in all the other buildings in the complex, including at Buildings “C,” “D,” “A,” “B,” “E,” “F,” and “G,” began displaying mold. Residents were relocated to other units and temporary repairs were undertaken to the units they vacated with the belief that they would be able to be promptly occupied again without further water intrusion related incidences. These units were leased, but despite the substantial remediation work done to these units, the mold came back after subsequent rains had occurred. The residents were relocated to other apartments.
- As the remediation work on the first building, “H”, proceeded to the interior walls, the experts found that the mold was much more extensive than originally believed and that it was pervasive inside the wall cavities and existed in all of the units in the building. Having gained a comprehensive understanding of the conditions that existed in the H building, and upon further investigation during the demolition process that commenced in May, 2016 on the C&D buildings, combined with the recurrence of mold that occurred the previous winter in the units where temporary fixes to stop water intrusion in units that were located in all the other buildings in the complex had been performed , the experts concluded that it was unsafe and dangerous for families living there during the rainy season that was fast approaching, and consequently the ownership decided to vacate all of the units for health reasons and rebuild from ground up.
- We have worked closely with the City of Richmond Building staff who have approved the permits to remediate the mold and reconstruct all of the buildings to cure the sources of water intrusion, and we are doing our best in balancing the needs of residents and our obligations as the property owner as communicated to us by the City of Richmond.
- We started the rebuilding process to rid potentially dangerous, harmful molds from the buildings in 2015, and we do not expect the project to be completed before the end of 2018.
- During these years of rebuilding, we are losing millions in rents and investing millions to make the entire 194 units safe to live in.
- Outside agitators who have not lived in, paid any taxes to, or created any jobs for the City of Richmond as we have, insist that it is because of the rent-control measure being voted on November 8th in the election. Nothing could be further from the truth.
- This has nothing to do with a rent control initiative on the ballot. To lose significant sums in rent and having to invest millions of dollars more to repair the building than it originally cost us originally to build it from the ground up just to make it safe and habitable again for residents just to beat rent-control does NOT make financial or business sense.
- We needed to vacate all the units and to start doing the work because when the rains start again in a few weeks, we will have the same problems with molds and will be substantially delayed in finishing all of the units.
- Additionally, AND THIS IS IMPORTANT, insurance does not cover molds to rebuild. Consequently, we have to invest millions of dollars to rebuild all 194 units.
- Since the entire complex will be fully vacant for a substantial period of time while the property is being reconstructed, we will be receiving no, or limited income for a period of many years; but we will still be obligated to continue to pay all of the costs of operating the property. No easy task, but we decided to do the right thing for the residents and the City of Richmond
- All residents will receive back their security deposits and we are helping them find other locations to move to and accommodate them in doing so.
- Mayor Tom Butt has lived in Richmond since 1973, is the only city council member who has a business in Richmond, is a UCLA-educated architect, and has served as a council member, vice mayor and now mayor since 1995, understands the gravity of the situation and why we need to rebuild.
- In a recent E-Forum editorial, The Mayor, supported what we are doing and unveiled the opposition’s unscrupulous accusations against us and project. It is included below.
- Read it and understand what we are trying to do to help the City of Richmond and how the other side is using the tactics of Saul Alinsky, who wrote the book, “Rules for Radicals,” which is the school of negative and unscrupulous agitation publicly with the made-up positions just to get media attention, not the truth.
Creekview – Another False Rent Control and Just Cause Poster Child
By Mayor Tom Butt
The Richmond Progressive Alliance and twelve other organizations known as Fair and Affordable Richmond are backing Measure L on the November 8 ballot that will impose rent control and just cause on Richmond and set up a multimillion bureaucracy to run it.
As the latest poster child to support their campaign, they cite recent actions by Creekview Apartments not to renew the month-to-month rentals of a large number of tenants. RPA members Gayle McLaughlin and Melvin Willis have recently participated in demonstrations at Creekview to protest the action, and they claim that The Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause For Eviction And Homeowner Protection Ordinance would have prevented this.
The problem is that this is simply not true. The Creekview Condominiums (actual name, even though they are rented) is vacating units in order to make significant repairs on the buildings that would not be possible with tenants present. Because of a combination of design flaws and construction defects, the buildings have been subjected to massive water damage that has resulted in widespread mold.
The Just Cause part of the proposed ordinance allows eviction for repairs (11.100.050(a) (5)), so it would not have prevented vacation of units at Creekview. It also requires relocation payment “…amounts shall be determined by the City Council through a Relocation Ordinance,” but there is no “Relocation Ordinance,” and no amount specified for relocation payments. Determination of relocation payments are not in the list of powers and duties of the Rent Board. This is one of many examples of how the rent control and just cause ordinance is flawed. It was hastily drafted by amateurs without any public input.
The repair project started in 2014 with Building H (“Richmond tenants battle Beverly Hills developer to keep their homes,” December 18, 2014, Richmond Confidential). On December 9, 2015, and June 22, 2106, the City of Richmond Design Review Board conducted public hearings “… to consider a design review permit for phase II consisting of exterior renovation to existing multifamily Residential buildings (building A to G), including deck repair, Window and roof replacement, and removal of siding for new exterior stucco.” No one showed up to protest.
A building permit was issued on November 30, 2015, for the exterior renovation of Building H (a 3-Story, 30-Unit Residential Structure) and the Club House (a 2-Story Community Space). The last building inspection was on July 12, 2016. The owner mentioned that subsequently it was found extensive mold damage in the interior of the apartments and the scope of the work has been extended. A second building permit was issued on June 21, 2016, for phase II for the remaining buildings; work is currently underway.
The bottom line is that the work has to be done, and the buildings have to be vacated to do it. The tenants are victims of bad design and shoddy construction, as is the owner, who is also suffering significant losses. You can’t insure against this type of damage.
Notwithstanding the inconvenience, this would be far less of a tragedy if sufficient housing units existed nearby for tenants to relocate. But the market is tight, and it is getting tighter all the time because of the fear of rent control and just cause. Housing developers are bypassing Richmond in favor of more business-friendly places. That not only constricts supply, but it drives up rents, a significant unintended consequence of rent control and just cause.
In the end, rent control and just cause, if it passes in Richmond, may benefit a few people for a while, but in the long term it will hurt Richmond renters and the City of Richmond big time. The people who drafted and now back The Richmond Fair Rent, Just Cause For Eviction And Homeowner Protection Ordinance are well meaning and compassionate, but they don’t understand real estate economics, the real estate marketplace or the construction industry. They continue to put ideology ahead of practicality.