The Abuse of Ocean Beach Tenants on Saratoga

by on July 2, 2015 · 21 comments

in California, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Environment, Health, Ocean Beach

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Mark in front of his unit on Saratoga.

By Frank Gormlie

Mark has lived in his small unit on the 4900 block of Saratoga Avenue in Ocean Beach for 14 years. His is one of the front units in the 8-plex, where a sidewalk and a narrow space separate the two buildings that make up a narrow courtyard. A row of garages that face the alley forms a “T” with the buildings.

Mark’s longevity as a tenant is not the only one. A woman neighbor has been there for 17 years and a buddy in one of the back units has been there for ten years.

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The units from across Saratoga.

Everyone got along in his courtyard neighborhood. Everything seemed fine, until about six months ago when the property changed hands. And a new property management team appeared. It was the Torrey Pines Property Management company that took over, as it was one of their clients that had purchased the units.

Mark recounted to me, that after Torrey Pines took over, they initiated a series of upgrades and renovations – both interior and exterior – of the units. That’s when the troubles began.

OB Saratoga TenantAbuse earlierFirst, in January and February, the landscaping was all ripped out. Then the roof on the garages was replaced. Mark and the other tenants were fine with all of this. But when the teams doing spray-painting were out in the alley doing the garage doors and exterior walls, no protections were taped up on the gaps, and Mark’s motorcycle and other things were sprayed.  This pissed him off. When he complained to the company, the response was : ‘that’s what we have insurance for’.

Then in mid-April, the contractor came in and began power-washing the exterior walls of all the units. The contractor is actually Torrey Pines’ own construction crew. When they were finished, the grounds were covered with paint chips.  And the chips just stayed there – through the two big rains our region had in May. The painters, Mark said, had left a large heap of old paint, cans, tarps and other trash at the back of the units. Mark estimates it stayed there for 7 to 8 weeks. It wasn’t cleaned up until things got hot and heavy.

OB Saratoga TenantAbuse sidewalkAnother time, the painters left the premises at the end of the work day, but left all the front doors of the units open and unlocked. Several people were home – but several weren’t – so Mark, being the good Samaritan he is, called his neighbors to let them know that their places were wide open.

As more and more renovation on the units progressed, Mark got the sense that this all could be part and parcel of the gentrification of Ocean Beach. As the units were vacated, they were renovated and the rent was increased by up to a third. It seemed to him, that the strategy was to harass and annoy the tenants so much that they would move out on their own.  At one point, two units were empty, another recently rented – under the new amount – and 5 were occupied.

OB Saratoga TenantAbuse trashThen there was all the abrupt entries by the crews – who without notice – would barge in during the day and tell the tenants they had to fix this or that. Mark and a few other tenants were really bothered about these, and considered the entries illegal. Landlords have to give 24 hours written notice to tenants before they can come in and do repairs (unless it’s an emergency). But the tenants weren’t being given notice. An email had been sent out earlier, giving them general notice that work crews would be about – with one specific date mentioned.  That was it.

But the property management group seemed to think that the general notice was all they had to do to inform the peasants, uh, tenants.

OB Saratoga TenantAbuse exposOn top of everything else, Mark found what he believed to be black mold in at least 2 places in his unit. He complained – but when Torrey Pines responded, they snarkily asked him what lab he had sent the samples to.  Then he noticed that the work crew simply painted over what he suspected was the black mold. There were other things, too, Mark said. The work crews left gas lines bare – in open trenches around the buildings.

Then in early May, a plumber hired by Torrey Pines came out to Mark’s unit to check his interior water pipes. Astounded, the plumber told Mark not to drink his water. Mark was stunned. The guy said, “Do not consume the water,” Mark told me, as it was the old rust from the old iron pipes had polluted the water, and when the faucet was turned on, the water looked brown.  The plumber called Torrey Pines right then and there but got no response from them.

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A closer look at the front yard – June 26, 2015.

Mark recounted how four more plumbers came out – and they all agreed with the first. The water problem also occurred in another unit as well. This was, again, in early May. Of course Mark complained numerous times and never really received an adequate response. So, in essence, he was without potable water for nearly 6 weeks. He had to go out and lug in large gallons for his kitchen. His neighbor had to as well.

This was pretty much the last straw for Mark. The over-spraying, having his bike painted, the illegal entries, the constant noise, the black mold, the gas lines, the units left open, and now this – no drinking water. He had had it. He talked about it with his buddy in the rear unit – and they both decided they would just simply stop paying rent until things were fixed.

Mark was thinking to  himself, why didn’t they just move him into one of the empty units so they could fix his up. But no offer ever came.  He was a long-term tenant, and he was being treated like dirt. So was his neighbor who had been there even longer.

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City’s Notice of Violation and stop-work order.

Naturally, not paying rent got the management company’s attention.  They immediately initiated eviction proceedings against him and his buddy.

Both Mark and his buddy obtained lawyers and went to court. The parties settled – right? Mark’s attorney had plenty of ammunition. So Mark agreed to move out in mid-July and received 2 and a half months free of rent.

Yet he still had concerns. Mark was concerned about his neighbors, several were friends, and what was happening to them, as they continued to pay the rent. And one continued to have to haul drinking water into her unit.  Sadly, many of the remaining tenants expected to be evicted within 60 days.

This is astounding. Tenants pressured to move out and then their former units are renovated and rents are jacked up by a third.

Mark’s other big concern was all the paint chips left on the ground all around the front of the buildings, down the sidewalks, in the back – all over. His concern was – what if all these paint chips have lead in them? This was a very big deal for him. He began doing research on the internet and grew even more alarmed at the potential dangers that the lead paint represented.

He also started reaching out. He contacted the EPA with his concerns. Their eyebrows went up. He also contacted the City and its Environmental Services.

Actually, the city got serious and sent out an inspector. The inspector came out, was appalled, and posted a ‘stop work order’ on Mark’s unit, ordering all work to be halted until further testing. The inspector also scheduled a testing for lead paint for today, Thursday, July 2nd.

In the meantime, Torrey Pines got wind of the city’s move, and sent out their own certified inspection team. They came out Tuesday, June 30th. They reported to Torrey Pines that everything was fine.

Meantime, I contacted the management company. It’s owned by Lawrence “Chip” Crandall, and of course he has underlings. I ended up speaking with Andy Parashos, who very politely took my questions and then denied everything. When I would raise issues that had been recounted, like the over-spraying, the black mold, the doors being left open – Parashos just said no, didn’t happen.

I asked about the stop-work order and he responded it was all a result of “some disgruntled tenants”. He even denied Mark’s water problems and dismissed him and his issues. His case is settled, was his attitude. He’s moving out.  He said that any problems were “inherited” from the previous owner and acted like that absolved him and his firm.

Andy said the units vacated were all “under-priced” anyhow, and he confirmed that the rents were going up. Then he got snarky. “We’re trying to make the best rentals in OB and now we’re being punished.” I told him thanks and moved on.

Then this morning, Jessica Weslogel from the City’s Environmental Services came out to do lead paint testing. She’s titled as a “Lead Safety and Healthy Homes Inspector” and appeared at Mark’s door and began testing. “It was like CSI,” Mark said, “she had gloves and some kind of instrument.” She tested 3 other units as well as his, he said.

On the phone with Mark this morning, he recounted that Weslogel had told him that she had found 3 areas within his unit with elevated readings of lead. She’s continuing the testing and also went outside for more readings. She is sending the samples to their lab for confirmations.

Mark laughed. A plumber had also shown up this morning to do work on another unit but when he found out what the city inspector was doing – he refused to do any work – saying something to the effect, ‘I’m not bringing this stuff back to my kids at home.’

And then Andy showed up, Mark told me, and created “a shitstorm” with the city inspector. He demanded that she do testing for 6 blocks around – but of course this was not going to happen.  At one point, Andy torn the stop-work order off the pole in front of Mark’s apartment, “like a little 6 year old,” Mark said.

This is indeed a story of the abuse of tenants by a property management company. No considerations were given for the long-term renters who had made the complex their homes for years and years. Even though the abuse appeared to be on the hands of Torrey Pines, the new owner is responsible for they hired them.

If this is the pattern, where tenants are made to feel so uncomfortable by renovations that they move out, and where their units are upgraded with higher rents, then Mark’s right. This is part and parcel of the gentrification of Ocean Beach.

The city inspector will be contacting Mark soon with the results of her tests. We will follow this report up with an update in the near future.

This is not how we treat people. These tenants on the 4900 block of Saratoga have been made to go through a hellish nightmare – and some are still hanging on – and those like Mark – have to go find a new home for themselves. But he didn’t take it lying down. He stood up for his rights as a tenant – and in doing so, demonstrated for us what at times we need to do. And he also put a human face on gentrification of OB.

 

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Skye July 2, 2015 at 2:05 pm

I used to live here and I wondered, just by driving by, what was going with all of the changes. Theres a very sweet community of peiple living there. It is scary to think about all of the environmental risks associated with these changes. Not only are the displacing lovely and loyal tennants, they are sending them off with threats to their health. This is maddening and devistating all at once.

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tennyson July 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm

“This is astounding. Tenants pressured to move out and then their former units are renovated and rents are jacked up by a third.” This is not at all astounding, this is what new property owners are doing all over the country. Many of those being forced to move are seniors who, having lived in their units for over 20 years are now simply too old to do the physical tasks moving mandates, have no living relatives and in no way can afford to pay the increased rental rates of the “renovated” units. This is the now new normal in OB -don’t expect it to go away. It’s a sad, sad reality

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Mindy Elliott July 2, 2015 at 7:10 pm

Agreed tennyson. It sucks but it is the new “Norm” and I don’t like it! And the Trolls aren’t moving on?!! Still saw people giving them $$. Give them FOOD, please!!!!!!

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Mercy Baron OB Mercy July 2, 2015 at 7:25 pm

We live two doors down from this disaster. My bf commented that it looked like an Internment Camp or a Stalag with all the crap lying around. A true eyesore to our neighborhood. Atrocious landlords. Glad you got them in court. But it won’t stop them from charging jacked up rents.

I normally would post rentals to our Facebook page of Rent OB 92107, but that is NOT gonna happen after hearing all this crap! Torrey Pines Prop Management sounds like a company to stay away from.

I encourage any tenants in that building go on Yelp and give them your review. They do have a page on there…..some good….but the bad ones are truly scary!

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Dallas M. July 2, 2015 at 7:52 pm

Sadly, this story reads that they @ssholes who are coming in and are trying to transform OB into the mini La Jolla are winning. Good on Mark for fighting but what did he win? He still had to move from his long-time residency. They still treated him like some second rate tenant. They openly admitted that the rents were under valued.

All in all… they won. They got rid of the low paying tenant. The unit is vacated and they can do their half-assed renovation. When that is done, they will find some outsider looking to get a piece of the OB pie without having anything invested in the community. If only there was something more that the tenants could have done. If only there was somebody, an organization or something, to have these people’s backs.

It’s not going to change… especially when they keep on winning like this.

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Jim Grant July 2, 2015 at 9:49 pm

Having worked in the lead remediation industry for 3 years and holding a State License in my pocket I have a little insight on this.
All rental units should be made lead safe. If in doubt insist on seeing confirmation from the property owner or management company.
But be forewarned the vast majority of property in Ocean Beach is probably lead hot.
Old doors and windows , old tile, pipes, mastic used to secure flooring, and in all likelihood the soil is over acceptable limits due to exhaust fallout from leaded fuel.
To remedy these problems is a very very expensive ordeal and most times renters have to be relocated. In these cases the work takes weeks and the testing results take 4/7 days to come back. Without question rents will go up after these repairs. I suggest if you have children get your property checked.

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Rufus July 3, 2015 at 6:29 am

Why live in a place where the landlord is an AH unless you love the drama it provodes?

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Marc Snelling Marc Snelling July 3, 2015 at 8:15 am

Torrey Pines Property Management have many apartment buildings in OB. When you want to live in OB there are not that many options. It’s not that easy to just get away from “AH landlords”. I had the same sort of experience with Torrey Pines Property Mangagement. Constantly ignoring issues with their property, zero responsiveness until rent is withheld, and then nothing but threats.

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Dave Rice July 3, 2015 at 9:02 am

A couple points in defense, then a thorough dressing down coming from a 15-year industry veteran…also, a disclaimer: we don’t own anything in or near OB, though we manage a few units for others (all well below market rent at the moment).

Yes, when tenants move, rents go up – sometimes drastically. It’s my family’s practice to keep rents static, or make only nominal $10-25 increases year-to-year, even if the market calls for much more. So we have 5-10 year tenants paying hundreds of dollars below what their unit would go for on the open market. We like long-term tenants, so we don’t raise rents nearly as fast as they go up in the real world. But when they move, we remodel units and rent them out based on what’s fair in today’s market – if we’d been giving someone else a killer deal for sticking with us and they were getting 1990s pricing, it’s not impossible that rents could rise by a third or more when they move if we’d been giving the old tenant that much of a discount. Stick around a few years and what used to be a market rate will start to seem like a good deal.

The situation described in this article goes far beyond the rent increases, however. I’ve seen all of these practices in action, and it honestly makes me sick. I frequently say that it’s only 80% of the real estate professionals out there making the other 20% of us look bad…this is a case in point. 24-hour notices of entry are mandatory except in cases of true emergencies, sloppy contractors need to be held responsible for their mistakes, and health/habitability issues need to be addressed in the promptest manner possible – it’s 100% acceptable to withhold rent if your unit is rendered uninhabitable through no fault of your own until whatever problems, either landlord-caused or naturally occurring, are fixed. I’m going to have to pay to rent hotels for some of my tenants in North Park soon because I need to fix an upstairs sidewalk for their own safety – it’s just what you do.

That said, anyone got a line on a 2-3 bedroom that accepts indoor cats coming up really soon? I’ve got to move in a couple weeks…

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Mercy Baron OB Mercy July 3, 2015 at 9:15 am

Dave. Not sure if you’re looking in OB to rent. But I suggest you join the Facebook group, Rent OB 92107.

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Dave Rice July 3, 2015 at 2:35 pm

Thanks Mercy! I don’t book the face, but my wife is looking into it right now…

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Galbraith July 3, 2015 at 2:40 pm

From the outset, TPPM has mismanaged this renovation and management of the property in general. They have been paying lip service to issues without action. Their response to tenant’s rights and concerns were letters telling them that if they didn’t like it, they could leave. Read between the lines: we don’t want you here, so please leave. However, leaving takes time and money. So, some of us have to wait it out until the money and housing availability stars align. And in that time, we still deserve clean water and clean air and a non-hazardous living environment. These are the material points that seem to confuse TPPM in their overzealous need to assert their authority. They are so less than what they believe themselves to be. I live here. I know first hand.

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Mark July 3, 2015 at 2:55 pm

First and foremost I would like to thank Frank and all the staff involved in the production of the OB Rag. This has been great lost friends are looking me up and I have a place to move that is 50% bigger, well taken care of and has power in the garage. All for less than the place I am now after the proposed rent increase in a place that is approx. 475 sq. ft. I have not been able to respond of fully read the article until now. For the article all in all great some of the time line is off and other minor things but I will be sending Frank an email on this. One big point to be made is the EPA was very helpful on this and is starting its own investigation and referred me to the city so I could get an immediate response, 2 to 3 hours later the city was here. I am going to be setting up an email dedicated to this matter. It will be posted here and on yelp so anyone who would like to see the pictures, video of my water, scanned letters and emails from the prop. mgmt. co.. Also I am amazed how this company went into an immediate crises mode and has made every effort to pass the blame and through everyone else under the bus, including the owner of the property. Also check out constructive eviction on the net.
Thanks Again, Mark

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Joey D July 3, 2015 at 6:35 pm

I live across the street and have witnessed the ‘construction’ for the past couple of months. As reported, there were constantly heaps of garbage strewn about the property and, it appeared, that neither the construction crews nor the management teams made any effort to ease the burden on the tenants.

Mark is an amazing neighbor and it’s terrible to hear that he’s being forced out of the area. I hate hearing about bad things happening to great people…Hopefully he can find a new spot somewhere else on the street; Mark is a big part of what makes living on Saratoga great.

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Richard July 4, 2015 at 8:50 am

The time is long past for city government here to impose “Rent Control”. Greed will and has run amuck. I know some of the OB millionaire property owners who see only one issue. It’s a business! The business of picking the pockets of working people or as my millionaire friends would say “the losers”.

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RB July 4, 2015 at 3:37 pm

There is a supply and demand problem. When the supply does not keep up with demand, prices will rise. Given the current occupancy rates, opposition to development, increased regulations, and increasing population, rents will continue to go higher.

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Geoff Page Geoff Page July 6, 2015 at 11:18 am

I’ll have to respectfully disagree with some of this. There are a number of properties that have been in the same hands for years with long time renters as in this story. The rents are lower than the reguylar market because the tenants have been renting for a long time and long time property owners have made money with those rents. The problem comes when the properties are sold for many times more than the original owners paid for them. Because of this increase, it is no longer profitable to rent the units for those same low rates, the rents have to go up. It is a shame but it is also reality.

I would also comment on the developer portion of this comment. Developers are not building apartments in OB and Pt. Loma, they are building either saleable condos or vacation rentals. That’s where the money is. No one is protesting any development projects that include rentable units because none are being built.

The sad fact of life is that OB has finally been fully discovered and will soon be too expensive for a whole lot of folks who have enjoyed the secret for years. Remember the baby boomers and how many of them there are. They are retiring and selling and moving. The sale prices of those homes can only be afforded by folks with ample means.

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Mercy Baron OB Mercy July 6, 2015 at 11:32 am

Oooh, all sounds sad, but true Geoff. Not sure I could argue any of your points, but I bet someone on here will! Bring it!

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Lotus St July 4, 2015 at 11:41 am

How about a story on Pruett Realty as well? They manage several properties in OB, and are gaining quite the reputation. Not in a positive way. Just speak to any of the tenants on Lotus st. and you would be appalled.

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Geoff Page geoff page July 6, 2015 at 8:12 am

I would also suggest going to the California State Contractor’s Board website and check to see if they used
properly licensed contractors for the work. Sounds to me like they may not have.

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Galbraith July 15, 2015 at 6:09 pm

I’m told that TPPM opened the front doors of the Saratoga Avenue apartments today to test that the porch lights were working, They sent no notifications to tenants that they planned on doing this. I do not know to what extent they entered the apartments to test the light switch, but to me opening the front door is entering and by law that requires TPPM to notify tenants 24 hours in advance. This isn’t the first time that they have bent the law to their convenience.

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