The 3-bedroom apartment in the 1400 block of Harvard Street is more than a collection of rooms and walls to Connie Hill.
It’s where she created a life with her late husband, who passed away a couple years ago. It’s where she raised her children, who are now grown and living elsewhere. For more than 35 years, it’s been her slice of Santa Monica.
Her current unit is rent-controlled. She owes about $1,100 each month, well below the market rate.
Hill struggles to imagine living elsewhere, let alone paying for another place. It’s why she and her family are worried about the changes taking place at her building.
“It’s the new face of Santa Monica,” Hill’s daughter, Kim Cecere, said.
The debate over rent control rages on in the beachside city, which adopted the housing regulations in 1979. Proponents believe the policies promote stable neighborhoods and help to keep Santa Monica affordable for middle- and low-income residents. Critics argue that the laws reduce the availability of vacant units and discourage landlords from paying for repairs and upgrades.
Rent control in desirable places like Santa Monica has led to a notable increase in evictions under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants if they remove those units from the rental market.
There were 153 units affected by Ellis Act evictions in 2015, according to the Rent Control Board’s recently released Consolidated Annual Report, an 80-percent increase over the 85 units impacted a year earlier. The units can return at market rate if they’re kept off the market for five years.
“Clearly this increase is tied to economic opportunities,” Dan Costello, an information analyst for the city, said earlier this month. “There are high property values here and the opportunity to develop condominiums on properties that may have had rent-controlled rental housing exist. And even if owners didn’t demolish the buildings and waited five years, they could command much higher rents than perhaps the properties are generating now.”
Hill lives in one of Santa Monica’s 27,000-plus rent-controlled units, and she gets an extraordinary bargain relative to other local residents. Her monthly rent is less than one-third of $3,595, the median monthly cost of a 3-bedroom apartment in the city last year, according to the annual report.
Hill moved to Santa Monica after visiting her sister in town decades ago, landing a place near the original Hot Dog on a Stick. She soon met her eventual husband, Donald, who lived in the former Muscle House on Ocean Front Walk. The two got a house nearby before settling in an apartment on Harvard Street in 1979.
It’s where Hill, 70, still lives today.
Her complex between Broadway and Santa Monica Boulevard was recently sold to a new owner, Denali Alpha LLC. Los Angeles Property Management was hired to handle day-to-day duties there.
Vanessa Pineda, who runs the property management company, said she inspected her new client’s units earlier this month and informed Hill in a letter of several violations that had to be addressed. There were issues with excessive storage. An air-conditioning unit had been installed in a window. More smoke detectors were needed. Her pet bird was against the rules.
The letter made Hill uneasy.
“They’re trying to find anything to get her to leave,” said Cecere, Hill’s daughter.
Pineda, an experienced property manager on the Westside, said roughly 80-percent of the units she oversees are rent-controlled. She said her tenants are given plenty of time to follow orders and added that it’s her job to notify them of landlords’ expectations.
The owner doesn’t want to force Hill out, Pineda said.
“It’s exciting to get a client who wants to make the property nice,” she said. “Usually when landlords deal with tenants with low rent, they don’t want to put money into the property. It’s been a pleasure for me. … It’s nice to find someone who fits the market, who wants to improve the property.”
Cecere said Hill, who still has the original lease paperwork, is trying to comply with Pineda’s instructions so she doesn’t get kicked out.
Pineda, meanwhile, recently learned that Hill has a deep emotional attachment to her bird because it reminds the widow of her time with her late husband. The property manager said Hill will be allowed to keep it.