Imagine finding out that one of your neighbors had got very ill from being exposed to mold in their apartment. So ill, that they had to be admitted to the hospital.
Since you live in the same apartment building with shared common walls that interconnect with one another, you and some other tenants decide that you would like to have the property manager ensure you and your family’s safety by requesting that they have mold inspection be done.
Then to your surprise, instead of being handed a mold inspection report, you are served with a “3 day notice to vacate!”
That is exactly what is happening in Long Beach, California to several tenants of a nine-unit apartment building at 54th Place and Ocean in Belmont Shores.
The property management firm, Entourage Property Management LLC. is under the media spotlight for serving the tenants who have paid rent on time, but just wanted to make sure that their apartments were safe and free from mold.
The eviction notices came shortly after one unit in the building, located at the corner of 54th Place and Ocean, requested an examination of what they believed to be black mold, which originated from a leak. After the unit was tested and confirmed to be contaminated, word spread among the tight-knit group of neighbors, who were advised that they too should request an inspection.
Tully Mills and Melissa Rodarte have lived at the property for 11 months and were among those who requested and received an inspection. The couple said they had to inquire about their results nearly a week after the test was performed and were advised by an Entourage employee that despite a leak, one that would not require them to move out of the unit, their unit tested negative for any trace of mold.
Then a notice was posted on their door.
“They say in their last letter to us that there ‘may or may not be a health problem,’ but that’s it. It’s my understanding that you can’t give someone a three-day notice because there may or may not be a health concern,” Mills said. “And if it is that pressing, then why aren’t they giving us more information about what the health problem is?”
According to the California Department of Consumer Affairs, a landlord can terminate a rental contract with a three-day notice, but it would require substantial violations of the rental agreement like failure to pay rent, using the property for illegal activities or materially damaging the property.
Tenants can legally be asked to leave for any reason, with those living in the units less than a year requiring a 30-day notice and those living there for over a year requiring a 60-day notice. Entourage could legally issue these and Mills and Rodarte said they would reluctantly comply, although it would still place them in a bind to find a residence in the city they’ve grown to love.
“All we wanted was time,” Rodarte said. “Our place isn’t destroyed. There’s no reason to have to leave in such a way. I don’t even think the students are gone yet; there’s just nothing out there.”
An email correspondence from Entourage obtained by the Post states the property management’s assessment of the issuing of the notices, noting that health concerns “may or may not exist,” which “may or may not” require construction efforts to eliminate them. The email said the property owner was acting out of an abundance of caution in issuing the notices to vacate.
The clause cited in the notices, however, states that the rental agreement clause pertaining to destruction of the premises was breached. According to those living in the building, only one unit that received an inspection had holes cut into the walls to assess damage, rendering it uninhabitable; the rest had air-tests conducted, which yielded negative results.
That tenant whose unit is under construction declined to go on record, due to potential future litigation that could be filed against Entourage. A representative from Entourage was reached early Friday afternoon and also declined to make a statement on the record.
Faced with the prospects of being homeless and thrust into apartment search mode, the residents spent last Friday night huddled around pizza boxes in their courtyard as members from Housing Long Beach discussed with them their legal options and possible routes of recourse. The non-profit group has been pushing for legislative changes in the city to help bolster the options available to renters in this city, when unlawful evictions and uninhabitable living conditions infringe on their day-to-day lives.
Josh Butler, the group’s executive director, said that the tenants stand a very good chance of winning a challenge against Entourage because of the boldness of the eviction notices, namely that the only tenants to receive a notice were those who requested an inspection. Butler said this was a clear case of retaliation on the part of Entourage, and that HLB would stand by the tenants for as long as they’re willing to fight.
“This is perhaps the most extreme case that I’ve seen and I’ve been doing this kind of work for many years and there’s a lot of gall to give only some of these tenants notices to vacate,” Butler said. “And to give the tenants that asked for inspections notices to vacate in three days claiming that ‘you’re doing so for their benefit.’ It’s a real tough one to swallow.”