Displaced tenants locked out of their apartments in a building at 215 South Madison Avenue angrily addressed the City Council Monday, complaining that they have not been allowed back in even to retrieve their possessions for nearly a month after a fire on the building’s third floor.
The blaze broke out at about 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 19 and left the entire four-story apartment building uninhabitable because officials could not shut off the gas and water in just one unit and had to shut it off in the entire building.
But days later, according to the tenants, a security guard hired by the Oregon-based Trilliant Property Management firm refused to allow City building inspectors inside to re-inspect the building to determine if any apartments could be released back to tenants.
Eventually, the City inspectors were able to gain access and declared about 30 apartments at the site inhabitable, Pasadena Public Information Officer Lisa Derderian said.
But Trilliant continued to lock out the tenants, its chief executive officer Erik M. Rivera saying in late December that for the health and safety of the tenants further environmental and structural engineering tests were necessary to guarantee the building was safe.
Dozens of tenants, including parents with children, spent both Christmas and New Year’s out of their apartments in hotel and motel rooms and other temporary lodgings.
Now nearly one month after the fire, tenants are still locked out.
City Manager Steve Mermell said during Monday’s Council meeting that Rivera told him on January 3 that the testing showed the presence of asbestos in the building.
“There’s talk of contamination in the whole building and about throwing away our items without our consent,” said tenant Navroj Ravi. “We’ve not been given any evidence of contamination in individual units or the hallway.”
Tenant Tia Strozier said that she has communicated with Rivera with questions about a timeline for return, and he has instead responded with questions about re-negotiating her lease.
Strozier said Rivera offered two months’ rent in exchange for terminating her lease prematurely.
Mermell said that “City staff are very sympathetic to the plight of the residents,” but added that, “Primarily, the issue is between the tenants and the property owners.”
“What we want is temporary relocation assistance,” said Joshua Blumenkopf. “Which is in the Pasadena TPO [Tenant Protection Ordinance]. So it is required. The management has given a variety of reasons why they don’t have to offer it.”
Trilliant’s Rivera said that the landlord is not obligated to pay for relocation or temporary shelter assistance and that the tenants should seek reimbursement from their renter’s insurance, a requirement, Rivera said, for all tenants in the building.
According to the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance, landlords must pay temporary location to displaced tenants if a landlord is required to temporarily recover possession of a rental housing unit in order to comply with housing, health, building, safety laws of the state of California or the city of Pasadena, or if a tenant is required to vacate a unit upon the order of any government officer or agency. The ordinance lists the daily rate as equal to two times the daily pro-rata portion of the rental rate of the tenant’s unit. For each day that temporary housing is required tenant shall not be required to pay rent.
But the ordinance, importantly, applies only to tenants whose household income is at 140% of the Area Median Income, or less.
One tenant said that he and others he knows simply earn too much to qualify under the TPO.
“The last time I was involved was a few days ago and I know they were getting some support from the city attorney and the tenants’ rights advocates out of Jackie Robinson, but it doesn’t sound like they made a lot of progress, which is unfortunate,” Councilmember Andy Wilson said on Monday.
“There’s no return date or help from both, the landlord and city,” Ravi said. “The whole situation looks like they want to evict us without any compensation.”