Tom Butt
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  Creekview - Another False Rent Control and Just Cause Poster Child
September 3, 2016

Let’s start with what we agree on. Everyone should have an opportunity to live in a safe and home they can afford. What we don’t agree on is how to achieve that.

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.

Below is a copy of the letter provided to Creekview tenants and several media articles about Creekview.




Richmond Tenants Face Mass Eviction At Creekview Apartments Complex
People from more than 100 units in five different buildings are being kicked out of their apartments. The owners say it's to protect residents' health but tenants say the timing is suspicious. Da Lin reports. (8-26-16)

Richmond Tenants Face Mass Eviction Just Before Vote On Rent Control
August 31, 2016 2:52 PM By Da Lin
Filed Under: Creek View apartments, Da Lin, mass evictions, Richmond

RICHMOND (KPIX 5) — Tenants at a large Richmond apartment complex are angry over mass evictions just several weeks before people are set to vote on rent control.
The owner of the Creek View apartments at 3535 El Portal Drive in Richmond gave all the tenants 60 days to vacate the complex.

It isn’t exactly clear how many people live there.  But the large complex is made up of eight buildings.  Three are currently vacant, with families living in the remaining five buildings.  There are 114 units in those five buildings, but the property manager says not all of them are occupied.

A Beverly Hills investment company owns the complex.  David Silver, a spokesman for the company, says their inspectors found mold and mildew in all of the buildings.  He says they want to get people out so they can fix the problem.

“We don’t believe in band-aid fixing.  We want to make sure we do it the right way,” said Silver.

But tenants say it’s all about greed. “They’re lying. They’re lying,” said tenant Vincent Justin. “They flat out lied.”

Justin has lived at the complex for 22 years.  He pays $1,250 a month for his one-bedroom unit.

He and others believe the owner wants them out before voters pass a rent control ordinance in Richmond on the November ballot.

If passed, landlords in Richmond would only be allowed to increase rents by about two percent a year and they would have to pay for relocation assistance for no-cause evictions.

Silver says the eviction has nothing to do with the rent control ballot measure.  He points out they lose money by evicting families. But tenants argue the owner will get higher rents from new tenants.

Sharon Brown pays $1,410 a month for her two-bedroom unit.  She says it’s impossible to find the same kind of apartment for that price.

“I start trying to pack up things, and then I just start crying because there’s nowhere for me to go,” said Brown.

Just like her upstairs neighbor Justin, Brown is also disabled and on a fixed income. Both worry they’ll be homeless.

“I’m depressed, just depressed,” said Justin, “Just greedy people that want to exploit, take advantage of what’s happening in this world today.”

Richmond City Manager Bill Lindsay said he just found out about the mass evictions and doesn’t have much information.

Councilwoman Gayle McLaughlin plans to meet with tenants in September to see how the city can help.  But their hands may be tied since Richmond doesn’t have rent control or any kind of ordinance to protect renters.

Last summer, Richmond became the first California city to pass rent control in 30 years.  But the California Apartment Association forced the city to rescind the ordinance.

This summer, housing advocates collected enough signatures to place rent control on the November ballot.  It takes a simple majority to pass the measure.  But it may be too late for the tenants at Creek View.

Richmond tenants battle Beverly Hills developer to keep their homes

The unit at the end of this hallway is one of two where mold was found. (Photo by: Parker Yesko)

The unit at the end of this hallway is one of two where mold was found. (Photo by: Parker Yesko)

By S. Parker Yesko
Posted December 18, 2014 12:40 pm

It had been six weeks since Kevin Ellis got the letter telling him to get out, but he was staying put.

Many of his neighbors had already moved along.

Ellis was under the weather. His legs were achy, the after-effect of a decades-old workplace injury. He trudged down the rain-slicked sidewalk outside of Creekview Condominiums Building H and counted the newly-vacant apartments.

“She’s gone. I know the guy with the motorcycle’s gone. The people next to me are gone,” Ellis said.

Ellis and his wife have lived in their two-bedroom apartment on the second floor of Building H since May 2012. Theirs is one of 30 units in the building, which is part of a larger condo complex that sits on the Richmond/El Sobrante border.

The Los Angeles-based real estate developer that owns Creekview has said that Building H needs to be vacated and gutted due to a moisture problem. But Ellis and several others felt blindsided by the order, perplexed by descriptions of the problem and ill prepared to move. They’ve hired a tenants’ rights attorney and hunkered down, setting up a showdown between the company and the low-income tenants.

The only official communication about the situation was a memo issued on Oct. 14 and addressed to all Building H residents. “Water Intrusion,” the subject line read, and a terse paragraph that followed ordered tenants out due to health dangers and the need to do major renovations.

The letter was signed by “The Management” and gave a return address for PMI Management LLC in Beverly Hills.

Though it urged immediate action, it didn’t describe anything more about the moisture issue, the associated health hazard, or which tenants might be at risk. It didn’t go into detail about the type of testing planned, which units would be affected, or whether relocations would be temporary or permanent. It made no acknowledgement of the renters’ leases, many of which would need to be broken.

“All they’re saying is that there’s destructive testing that needs to be done and everyone needs to leave,” said Luke Vanderdrift, an attorney representing Ellis and several of his neighbors. “To require a whole building to vacate is a pretty drastic measure.”

Though at least two tenants in Building H have found mold in their apartments, Ellis has not.

“There’s no reason for him to vacate. There’s no habitability issue with him,” Vanderdrift said.

According to Vanderdrift, a building can only be condemned by a government agency, such as a planning department. A landlord is not at liberty to deem a property uninhabitable.

A Concord-based attorney representing PMI, Kenneth Brans, declined to elaborate on the situation, citing pending litigation.

“[Vanderdrift] has threatened a lawsuit for the three resident units that he represents in a building of 30,” Brans said. “I don’t litigate matters in the public arena. The allegations, many of them that he’s made, are disputed.”

Outside building H, where tenants are fighting to remain in their apartments. (Photo by: Parker Yesko)

Outside building H, where tenants are fighting to remain in their apartments. (Photo by: Parker Yesko)

Creekview Condominiums may have slipped through the cracks of building inspectors due to its ambiguous location on El Portal Drive, which begins in the City of Richmond and runs into unincorporated county territory.

Last month, after being alerted to the situation in Building H, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin issued a statement promising stricter oversight from the city.

“This appears to me to be a situation of discrimination on the part of private property management against low-income working families,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin said that Creekview Condominiums falls under Richmond jurisdiction but said that since the property’s owners have always claimed an El Sobrante address, it was never included in Richmond’s rental database.

She vowed to correct the omission and order a code enforcement inspection immediately.

“Attempting to move out these 30 households, many who have long-term leases, is totally unprincipled,” McLaughlin said. “The fact is that the property management should have been keeping the property maintained all along.”

Jimmy Ellis (no relation to Kevin Ellis), a Building H tenant who vacated his apartment last month, said that he complained to management several times over the course of a year about black mold his daughter spotted in their bathroom.

When they finally addressed the problem in September, shortly after Ellis had renewed his lease for a third time, PMI employees placed a heater in his bathroom and sealed the door shut for three weeks, he said.

His 4-year-old granddaughter then developed respiratory problems and began vomiting.

“My grandbaby went to the hospital three times during that time because, all of a sudden, she couldn’t stop coughing,” Ellis said.

Ellis said he requested that a property manager test the mold for potential health threats, but an examination was never performed.

Initially, PMI agents said they would relocate Ellis and his daughter and granddaughter to another unit in the complex while they treated the problem, but the new unit never materialized.

Then, according to Ellis, he was abruptly told his water was going to be shut off and that his apartment would be red-tagged if he didn’t leave. PMI offered him a small sum of money to put towards moving expenses.

Fearful that their belongings would be confiscated, Ellis’ family took their stuff and left. They had to split up so that relatives could accommodate them while they looked for other options.

Ellis hustled to find a new apartment, crashing with his brother, his mother, and his grandmother in the meantime. Finally he found a spot in Pinole.

“I felt so violated,” Ellis said. “I’m paying $200 more for a smaller place, in a place where I don’t want to be. I was pressed for time. I had to find something quick.”

According to Vanderdrift, the tenants that remain in Building H are hamstrung by disability and low incomes.

“It’s the middle of the holiday season. There’s a massive housing crunch. People aren’t in a position to just up and leave,” Vanderdrift said. “The ones who can leave, have.”

Kevin Ellis worries that he can’t afford a higher rent on his fixed income. He also hasn’t been able to do any heavy lifting since a 9,000 lb. slab of black granite crushed his knees nearly 20 years ago.

His ’91 Camaro, in need of replacement, isn’t roomy enough to move big objects. It sits in the Building H’s near empty parking lot.

At the front gate near Building A, BMWs come and go. Ellis speculated that PMI might be trying clear out the tenants in Building H to make way for higher paying renters.

“It’s almost like I stay in a ghost town now,” said Ellis, pointing to an outdoor swimming pool he’d heard is about to undergo a remodel.

“They think ‘oh he’ll get out of here sooner or later,’” Ellis said. “I don’t see why I should get a bum’s rush.”