Two giant, transparent tarps hang over the front of the Tenth Street Promenade apartments. Behind the pane-less window frames, construction workers rip out the bare bones of vacant units. On a weekday afternoon, the workmen’s radios blare as they shout conversations from apartment to apartment.
For the five tenants holding on to their rent controlled apartments just north of Arizona, the construction is nearly unbearable.
On some days, the buildings at 1238 and 1242 10th Street rattle so violently it knocks picture frames off side tables. The central courtyard that used to showcase a large tree is now covered in dust and debris. The tree was recently cut down. Peace seems nowhere near – as more tenants get fed up with the noise and take buyouts, their apartments are gutted as well. Fifteen of the twenty apartments are now in some stage of demolition.
Multiple tenants say the last year of construction has been careless at best and a risk to their health at worse.
One tenant, Shruti, is refusing to leave her home of twelve years despite a relocation order from the City after multiple tests found asbestos dust in her unit. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and there are strict federal guidelines regarding its abatement. It is knocked free from old ceilings and walls during remodeling and while M A S Construction did file the proper paperwork with the Air Quality Management District regarding the cleanup, tenants claim workers did not follow proper protocol disposing of the debris or keeping the dust from floating into nearby apartments.
“I’m worried now because I know they’re not going to follow the rules,” said Shruti, who asked the Daily Press not to publish her last name. Her next-door neighbor recently took a buyout, and the removal of that ceiling is imminent. The property manager at Concord Real Estate did not respond to our request for comment on this story, nor did the Vice President of M A S Construction.
This is an issue that has now been going on for five months. Back in September, after the City of Santa Monica verified the presence of asbestos on three different surfaces in her unit, Shruti was given 24 hours to pack up and leave. She grabbed everything she thought was important or valuable and spent the next seven weeks bouncing between AirBnBs.
When her property manager finally told her she could come home, she was shocked by what she saw.
“They didn’t clean anything,” Shruti said. “There was seven weeks worth of dust everywhere. I have pictures of rags covered in black dust to prove it.”
A self-described neat freak, Shruti felt violated. Property management never told her who had come into her apartment while she was gone. She demanded more testing, which once again found asbestos. But this time, she’s forfeiting the relocation money and staying put.
“This is still my space at the end of the day.”
Throughout all this, Shruti continues to pay her full rent. After a year of complaints over the way construction has been handled, she and the other four tenants left will have a rent reduction hearing with the City, along with representatives from Concord Management and M A S Construction Thursday.
“The City, I have to commend them. They have been very responsive to us but you can’t force (the companies) to take responsibility for their actions,” Shruti said.
Shruti, who is a business analyst professionally, is bringing a detailed list of complaints with her to the early morning meeting. She has carefully documented missteps by both Concord and M A S. However, she’s worried the City can do little to keep the problems from happening again.
“I don’t like to rock the boat but when you’re messing with my health, I have to say something,” Shruti said.
While the building is managed by Concord, it is owned by an LLC linked to Neil Shekhter, Santa Monica’s biggest developer who is the CEO of NMS Property Management. Some of the paperwork regarding the asbestos abatement is on NMS stationary and Shekhter’s name is signed on the deed.
The City Council has asked for stricter scrutiny of Shekhter’s dealings in the City, after a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge found he submitted a forged documents to the court. An attorney for Shekhter is fighting the charges in court and denies his client forged any contracts.
Meanwhile, Santa Monica is moving forward to keeping situations like the one at the Tenth Street Promenade from happening again. Staff has recommended adding new tenant protections regarding construction, anticipating a whirlwind of permits because of the City’s new seismic retrofit ordinance.
“A strong housing market and increased construction related activities in multi-family buildings has shined a light on a gap in protections for tenants where hazardous materials are detected during the construction,” said the City’s public information officer, Constance Farrell, in an email to the Daily Press.
“These enhancements will provide stronger protections for tenants and give the City more options to preserve the quality of life for those impacted by materials including asbestos and lead paint.”
One of the protections will allow City oversight of hazardous material abatement, suggesting the City should “actively monitor such handling” and possibly hire qualified experts to evaluate compliance.