Tenants say they are subjected to constant noise and debris during construction. (Madeleine Pauker)

When Reilley Barringer and Chris Thatcher returned to their Santa Monica apartment one night after a long flight, all they wanted to do was eat, shower and go to sleep.

But when Barringer went to the kitchen, she saw the sink, dishwasher and refrigerator were covered in drain flies, a small insect that lives in dirty pipes. In the bathroom, flies were living in the toilet. The taps in the kitchen and bathroom produced yellow water.

Barringer and Thatcher immediately called the emergency maintenance service offered by their landlord, Coastline Real Estate Advisors, Inc. Coastline bought the building in Mid-City that Barringer and Thatcher live in for $8.8 million last February, several months before they moved in.

Nobody answered the phone.

Tired and hungry, Barringer and Thatcher grabbed the bags they had taken on their trip and checked into a hotel.

In the morning, it took three calls for Coastline’s maintenance team to pick up the phone. When they came to the couple’s apartment later that day, all they did was wash the drain flies back down the drain.

Barringer asked Coastline to send a pest control team to the apartment. The company said that would take two days, so Barringer and Thatcher booked another hotel.

The pest control company Coastline hired cleaned the kitchen sink, but didn’t remove the drain flies’ larva from the garbage disposal. A couple of days later, flies started crawling up through the knobs of the sink.

Barringer and Thatcher went back to their apartment, trying to keep the bugs at bay. Coastline never responded to Barringer’s emails asking the company to reimburse the couple for the hotels they had to stay in.

Other renters in the building — who spoke to The Daily Press on the condition of anonymity because they fear retaliation — said Barringer and Thatcher have been caught in the crossfire of Coastline’s strategy to force out tenants who have lived in the rent-controlled building for decades, some of whom are paying as little as $1,000 in rent.

When Coastline bought the building, it paid several tenants lump sums to vacate their apartments so it could charge new tenants much higher rents. Tracy Condon, executive director of the Santa Monica Rent Control Board, said property owners are required to notify the board of buyout agreements, but Coastline never did. Today, 12 of the 20 units are occupied, two by Coastline employees.

Long-term tenants who did not accept buyout offers said Coastline is still trying to get them to leave the building — but through more creative means.

Tenants said Coastline has been renovating the building since last April, creating constant, unbearable noise that starts in the early morning and lasts throughout the day. Contractors scatter dust and debris in apartments, leave nails and glass lying in walkways and urinate in the building’s parking garage.

Utilities have been frequently shut off during construction and Coastline has often prevented tenants from using their parking spots. In recent months, contractors have put plastic over many windows in the building, which tenants said rendered their apartments virtually uninhabitable during heatwaves earlier this fall.

Tenants also said the company has issued three-day eviction notices after tenants paid their rent, and the Rent Control Board put the company on notice twice for illegally changing tenants’ lease terms and trying to raise their rent above what is permitted under the city’s rent control laws.

Tenants said they have tried to get Coastline to rein in the contractors and respond to maintenance and habitability issues, but the company either ignores them or takes a long time to reply. The building lacks an on-site manager, despite being required to under state law because it contains more than 16 units.

Coastline’s behavior toward its Santa Monica tenants is similar to actions that the New York attorney general described as tenant harassment in a recent investigation it conducted into Coastline’s management of four buildings in Brooklyn.

The attorney general wrote in a decision dated Sept. 19 that the company “engaged in acts that in the aggregate constitute tenant harassment,” including issuing tenants erroneous eviction notices and causing noise, dust and unsafe conditions while renovating the properties and repeatedly interrupting water, heat and sewer services.

The decision also cited Coastline’s failure to maintain a building manager on the premises and respond in a timely manner to health and safety emergencies or complaints.

The attorney general ordered Coastline to pay $6,500 in rent credit to each tenant.

“The (attorney general) has concluded that (Coastline) … committed a number of prohibited or repeated acts of such significance as to substantially interfere with or disturb the comfort, repose, peace or quiet or any tenant or resident of the apartment or was designed to get the tenant or resident to vacate or surrender the apartment,” the attorney general wrote.

Coastline did not reply to multiple requests for comment from The Daily Press.

Barringer and Thatcher are planning on moving and retaining an attorney to secure compensation from Coastline for their hotel costs and other damages. But long-term, low-income tenants said they don’t have that option.

“The place has become so unsafe and filthy … we’re experiencing constant stress,” said one tenant, who has lived in the building for decades. “What they’re doing is making our lives really hard to force us to move out and clear the way for higher rents. But I’m going to stay here and bear it. With what I’m paying now, I can’t afford to live anywhere in Santa Monica or the rest of LA.”

Another longtime tenant went to the City Attorney’s Office to file a tenant harassment case against Coastline. They were told that in order for the Consumer Affairs Division to initiate a case, they would need proof that Coastline’s actions toward its tenants were in bad faith.

“Under the local ordinance, we have to show the landlord committed a prohibited act, like attempting to unlawfully evict tenants or disturbing their peace and quiet, and prove that they did it with the intent to vex, annoy, harass, provoke or injure the tenant,” said Gary Rhoades, a deputy city attorney.

Over the past two years, the City Attorney’s Office has filed 11 tenant harassment or discrimination cases, four of which have resulted in court judgments against owners and two of which have settled out of court, Rhoades said.

But Rent Control Board member Anastasia Foster said hundreds of rent-controlled tenants have complained to the board that their landlords are trying to get them to move out by making their lives miserable. The problem, she said, it that it’s extremely difficult to prove that they are acting in bad faith.

“They’re making buildings really undesirable to live in to force people out, and then they renovate them and fetch sky-high rents,” Foster said. “It’s symptomatic of the rampant real estate speculation in Santa Monica.”

madeleine@smdp.com

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1 Comment

  1. TDI PROPERTIES THE SAME…cockroaches rats lights not fixed stairs falling apart on and on , our favorite 3 day notices to quit or pay rent on very tenants door last new years holiday week the Friday after new yrs day without recognizing stamped dated envelopes or everyones different deadlines to pay rent..some people did move but it was understood they wanted to , was not out of intimidation..

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