From the street, 129 Marguerita Avenue appears to be a great location to raise a family in Santa Monica. Look left and you can see all the way across Palisades Park clear to the Pacific Ocean. Look right and you see a broad residential street and maybe a child or two riding their bikes. But if you look straight at the apartment complex, you’ll notice something amiss at the 16-unit building – a wide open front door.
In fact, not only does the main entrance often stay propped open all day, allowing any stranger to walk into the inner courtyard, the security keypad with a list of units and last names does not work. Tenant Jessica Katz says the door remains unlocked all day and all night. Because of the accessibility, the single mom wasn’t necessary surprised when her daughter’s bike was stolen last October or when it happened again a few weeks ago.
“A police officer came to the house after the bike situation and he told me he was just shocked how easily he could come in,” Katz said as her two little girls played in the kitchen after school. “It was 7 p.m. and it was dark. It’s me alone with these two girls and he told me he couldn’t believe how easily he could walk up to my door and that there was no peep hole.”
Katz moved into the building when her oldest daughter, who is now in first grade at a nearby elementary school, was just a year old. When Katz injured her back, she installed a doorbell on the front door of her unit so she could hear visitors arrive when she was upstairs. But with the recent rise in property crime and fears about safety in the North of Montana neighborhood, the single mom decided to take things a step further last month.
“I just wanted something to be safe for my kids,” Katz said, explaining her decision to update the electronic doorbell she had installed with a single screw on the front of her door with a Ring, the doorbell camera that is leading the market in home security systems. Attached with the same single screw, the Ring sends a live video feed to Katz’s cell phone whenever someone approaches her front door. She can instantly see who is outside and communicate with them – even if she is upstairs or even out of the house.
To Katz, it seemed like a simple fix to an ongoing security problem – until she got a letter warning her she could be evicted for having the bell.
“Your written rental agreement provides that there shall be no alterations to the Premises. You have installed a doorbell on your front door. This is strictly prohibited,” reads the May 31 letter from attorney Duane Hall, who represents the landlord American Career Investments.
Hall did not return the Daily Press’ request for comment on the letter. American Career Investments could not be reached.
The letter warns Katz she must remove the doorbell and patch and paint any holes left in the walls of the property and reinstall the original doorbell by June 14 or eviction proceedings will commence. So far, Katz has refused to remove the bell.
The Executive Director of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board says whether Katz is legally allowed to have the doorbell depends on the precise language in her lease agreement.
“It’s common for boilerplate leases to have a provision saying tenants may not make changes to their units without advance (written) approval from the owner,” Tracy Condon said, adding that voters approved Measure RR in 2010 which requires owners to give tenants a reasonable opportunity to correct any violations before the owner starts the eviction process.
The Head of Neighborhood at Santa Monica-based Ring says the devices are usually apartment friendly.
“You should be able to install Ring devices wherever you like,” Phil Dienstag said. “The drilling and installation leaves minimal damage to the property and if you move you can take your devices with you.”
That means Katz is potentially facing a difficult decision: give up on her new doorbell camera or find a new apartment. She’s trying to decide what’s best for her little girls.
“We’re in a good school district and we have rent control. We can’t just move,” Katz said. She decided to install the Ring after reading reports on the neighborhood social media website Nextdoor of nearby tenants catching package thieves and opportunistic burglars with their Ring devices. To Katz, a camera is a prudent deterrent that keeps her family safe. “I don’t understand why (the landlord) wouldn’t want the best safety for her tenants.”