Tenants to Speak About Poor Conditions, Dramatic Rent Increases at Next City Council Meeting

Tenants at 265 Monterey Rd. in South Pasadena plan to speak at next Wednesday’s City Council Meeting to address what they believe are critical issues at the apartment complex. Of the 32 apartments in the building, which is located across the street from Charlie’s Coffee House and adjacent to Foremost Liquor Store, ten have been vacated since February of this year.

A number of tenants contend that the timing of this flurry of vacancies is not coincidental. In January, the Axtell Group, a California Domestic Limited-Liability Company (LLC) located in South Pasadena, purchased the building from longtime owner Charles Wong, an architect and property owner.

According to tenants, Paul Wong (no relation), the Axetell Group’s Registered Agent on file under the state business registration, introduced himself to tenants soon after the sale closed. Four say he came to their doors to assure them that while he would be raising rents, he would do so gradually and with consideration for their circumstances. However, tenants who spoke with The Review said they were given notice on October 31 that their rents would increase on January 1, 2018, some by as much as 40 percent. At least two of these tenants have children currently enrolled at SPUSD school sites. They worry that if they are unable to afford the rent increase, they may be forced to move before the school year ends.

Tenant Lula Cummings, who has lived in a one bedroom, one bath apartment in the complex for around five years, said she remembers Charles Wong telling her that he cared most about preserving rooms for lower-income families so that their kids would be able to benefit from the District’s quality free education. A teacher and a widow with a special needs son currently enrolled in one of SPUSD’s schools, Cummings said she wanted to believe that Wong was sympathetic to her situation, but that the more likely reason rents stayed below market was the disrepair of the building.

That’s why, she said, she understood when Paul Wong told her that her gradual rent increase would be accompanied by improvements to the apartment complex. According to Cummings, internet and television cables had hung exposed all over the building since she had moved in, the water boiler in the laundry room needed to be replaced, walkways were in disrepair, and the retaining wall was crumbling, just to name a few of the problems. However, what has unfolded at the apartment complex since February has given Cummings and a number of her neighbors the impression that Wong has no intention of honoring his word or protecting the safety of his tenants.

Cummings said Wong began a renovation process that literally exposed the structure’s flaws yet did little to repair them. Under Cummings’s second floor landing were rotted floorboards that jutted out from under her apartment. Instead of replacing the entire beam, as required by law once construction companies have identified rotting, the construction crew appeared to only replace the beams that supported the landing. Multiple tenants who have spoken to The Review stated that they believe this type of construction shortcutting is not an anomaly. 

Another tenant, who asked to be unnamed because he feared retaliation in the form of a rent increase in addition to the 40 percent already levied, has stayed at the apartment complex for four to five years and is now considering moving out of the city. He has had to plug up holes in his walls and floors to keep out termites. “Even when we were paying $1,000 everything was broken,” he said. “When you pick up the phone [the landlord] acts like you’re bugging him. He acts like he is doing you a favor for letting you live in this city.”

Under the advisement of the Housing Rights Center (HRC), a group of 265 Monterey Rd’s tenants plan to address the City Council on Wednesday, Nov. 15 at the Council Chambers. They are hoping to not only raise awareness about what they view as exorbitant rent increases but also the unsafe conditions at their complex. According to one of the tenants, they intend to ask the Council to strictly enforce the City’s building codes.

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Harry Yadav has served as the Editor of the South Pasadena Review since January of 2018. Born and raised in South Pasadena, Harry graduated from South Pasadena High School in 2012, where he played golf and basketball and wrote for the Tiger newspaper. In 2016, he earned his Bachelor of Arts in English Literature at The University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.