Laurie Searle loves Santa Monica, so much so that she has the City’s logo tattooed on her wrist.
What she doesn’t love is dealing with a broken front door lock, collapsed lobby ceiling, defective plumbing, flooding, breakins, and squatters in her rent-controlled building, which is under the management of Miller & Desatnik.
When Searle moved into 927 2nd St in 2008 she was thrilled to acquire a rent-controlled unit just one block from the beach, but that joy faded over the years as the building fell into disrepair, management became less responsive, and tenants started moving out. Today only six of fifteen units remain occupied as the security and hygiene issues grow more dire.
“Every tenant has been in the building for over a decade but the collapse of responsibility, especially during COVID, with such extreme emergencies like being trapped or having to jump over a fence to get to the place they feel safe is neglectful, unlawful, and downright despicable. No one should have to endure that,” said Searle.
Within the past two weeks a leak flooded the lobby, caused a portion of the ceiling to collapse, and trapped a disabled tenant in his first-floor unit for three days.
Tenants alerted management about a leak on the 3rd floor in early August and Searle has made four plumbing-related maintenance requests since June. On Saturday Sept. 12, two tenants called the Miller & Desatnik emergency maintenance line and no one came until Wednesday, according to Searle. Water from the ceiling flooded the lobby, temporarily preventing the first floor tenant, who uses a walker and relies on Meals on Wheels deliveries, from leaving his unit.
Miller & Desatnik sent a plumber on Sept. 20, after the Fire Department had responded to a call on the collapsed ceiling earlier that morning. A portion of ceiling was removed to allow the wood beams to dry and on Sept. 22 a representative from Miller & Desatnik told the Daily Press, “We cleaned up everything yesterday, and we are fixing all the issues.”
The 3rd floor unit where the lobby leak originated is filled with furniture, grime, food remains, and possessions that have not been cleared since the unit was last occupied over ten years ago.
Another vacant unit has a dripping ceiling, falling paint, and mold growing in the living room, kitchen, and bathroom. According to the CDC, exposure to mold can cause stuffy noses, cough, wheezing, red or itchy eyes or skin.
In addition to plumbing issues, tenants have dealt with a jammed front door lock and faulty callbox for over a year. Searle has submitted eight lock-related maintenance requests since May 15.
Because the front lock frequently jams, tenants often prop open the door so that they can access their home and receive mail. This has led to squatters, unit breakins, and defecation in communal areas. When the door is not propped tenants have had to enter by climbing over a side gate.
A representative at Miller & Desatnik stated, “We’ve replaced the intercom system 4x, it is again brand new, we fix the gates almost every month. Transients come to the building and break things or prop doors open, break the locks. Transients intermittently break-in, also occupy some vacancies we have to change locks every other month, causing stoppages and drain issues. We attend to all calls immediately. I am sure you are aware that transient/homeless trespassing properties is a prevalent issue throughout Santa Monica.”
There is a new callbox but according to Searle it is not connected to the door or lock and therefore remains inoperable. According to Searle, there has never been an issue with the gates, so she is unclear why management would say they have been fixed almost every month. She claims homeless people don’t break-in, but walk-in because the door is often propped open and have squatted in the building because many vacant units are unlocked.
“I have spent hours and days making exhausting calls, climbing fences to get into the building, cleaning the lobby floor so that John in unit #1 can leave with his walker or pick up his meals on wheels at the front door,” said Sealy. “The homeless problem is a problem, but they can make it a lot better by keeping us safe and keeping the locks safe, cleaning the toxic mold from the empty units and caring for the property.”
A representative from the Santa Monica Police Department, acknowledged that homelessness is an issue in the City, but said that it is not always connected to break-ins.
“The biggest homeless related problems would be encampments and situations where a homeless person may be involved with mental health issues and there may be a disturbance out on the street. It would be very inaccurate of me to say that any time there is a break-in it is homeless related; that is not correct. Does it happen among the homeless population? Yes, but it’s not the main issue,” said Saul Rodriguez, Commander of the SMPD Special Operations Division.
On Sept. 15 Searle filed a petition for a rent deduction with the Rent Control Board. If granted, this would lower her rent until Miller & Desatnik address the building’s issues.