Santa Monica City Hall (File photo)

 

The Rent Control Board is looking to sharpen the teeth behind laws that regulate construction at rent-controlled apartment buildings, as the economy continues to improve and remodels surge in the city.

But the same bureaucratic problems that have frustrated rent-controlled tenants and stymied resolutions for those who need help now push back conversations on how to improve the process.

At Thursday’s Rent Control Board meeting, newly-elected board member Caroline Torosis urged the board to invite representatives from the two departments who deal with construction permits (Building and Safety and Code Enforcement) to meet with the Board “in a timely fashion.”

“It is going on all around the City,” Torosis said, noting that an upcoming mandate to seismically retrofit apartment buildings throughout Santa Monica will eventually lead to even more construction projects at rent-controlled buildings.

But the man who oversees the two departments, the Assistant Director of Planning and Safety, is swamped in work and cannot attend a Rent Control Board meeting until April, according to the Board’s executive director Tracy Condon. The City has also recently hired a Neighborhood Preservation Coordinator who may eventually help communication between the Board and other departments.

In the meantime, displaced tenant Gert Basson can find no resolution to his case. For the past four months, the filmmaker has been moving from place to place without access to his apartment or belongings because of asbestos found in his unit after heavy construction at the Tenth Street Apartments. Basson’s landlord is in the process of gutting and completely remodeling fourteen apartments in his small building. Between the construction noise, security cameras and health concerns, the majority of tenants have decided to take buy-outs and leave.

“The result is: out of 20 units there are six people left and before you have another meeting on this, two more people will be gone,” Basson told the Board Thursday.

Basson began complaining about the asbestos abatement at his 1950’s era apartment complex when construction began early last year. Calls to the City, the Air Quality Management District and elected representatives yielded weak results until he and his neighbors paid for an environmental inspector themselves. The tests for asbestos dust and air particles found the known carcinogen in six occupied apartments.

While some of his neighbors have taken buy-outs or moved back into their units, Basson refuses to return until his place is property cleaned. The situation has resulted in a stalemate between him and his landlord.

“To us it’s our lives,” Basson said, urging the Board to act quickly. “This could only happen because of malicious intent of an owner and the ignorance or the incompetency (of agencies). If those two weren’t there, this couldn’t have happened.”

Commissioner Anastasia Foster suggested the City should look into a punitive measure for landlords who are “found to be egregious or endangering to tenants through a lackluster means and methods plan or poor execution.”

“Perhaps we can examine the legality or practicality of pulling their permit,” Foster said.

Punishing landlords is out of the Rent Control Board’s jurisdiction, but the Board plans to make recommendations once a meeting between the agencies can finally take place.

kate@www.smdp.com