Landlord, surprised by repair costs, says he sought solution since October
Santa Cruz >> Tenants at a six-unit apartment complex downtown were forced to move out Thursday after the city red-tagged the building as unsafe a week ago.
City code compliance specialist Jacob Rodriguez informed landlord Darius Mohsenin via letter March 28 that "beams and posts at the second-story walkway and stairs were dilapidated and deteriorated to the point of possible failure."
The Southwestern-style apartments are at 696 Pacific Ave., near the Kaiser Permanente Arena.
Two tenants were upset, saying they got 24 hours notice to move out.
Anthony Cruz, 38, who has lived there with his 6-year-old daughter for a year, wanted a cash payment from the landlord rather than accept a room in the motel offered by Mohsenin. Cruz said the motel has had drug arrests and he didn't want to expose his daughter to that environment.
"I'm baffled how something like this can happen to people," Cruz said.
Jennifer Scott, walking with a cane from her second-floor apartment, said she sprained her back in an explosion and accepted the motel room offer.
She said the landlord "has a beautiful heart" but "he lets people in and then they turn against him."
Mohsenin, who is traveling abroad, said he appealed to city inspectors last week for a month to come up with a repair plan to minimize disruption to tenants. He proposed "shoring up of the most critical beams," noting six months had gone by since the problem was discovered by city building inspectors in October.
Mohsenin said he consulted a contractor and engineer, learning engineering work alone could cost $7,000.
"I'd have to increase rent to cover it," he said.
All six units are occupied by tenants with federal Section 8 vouchers, which since sequestration pays $1,141 for a one-bedroom unit, according to Mohsenin.
"Few one bedrooms in downtown Santa Cruz, or greater Santa Cruz, rent for that," he pointed out, noting tenants who move out would have 60 days under federal rules to find housing or lose their vouchers.
The city notice of violation orders Mohsenin to "ensure all displaced tenants are relocated to safe housing for the duration of the (repair) project."
He is required to submit the tenant compensation plan within 20 days and provide written proof of relocation for the demolition and construction phases. Failure to do so could result in civil penalties of $500 per day.
The city also ordered Mohsenin to: Obtain a permit for demolition of the unsafe stairs and walkway by April 10, submit plans for repairs by April 28, obtain a permit and correct building deficiencies by May 28 and schedule the final inspection by June 28.
Once the walkway is removed and city inspectors approve, the first-floor apartments can be occupied, according to Rodriguez, the code specialist.
Chief Building Official Mark Ellis said his staff got a complaint in August about work without a permit, at which time the landlord agreed to obtain permits but did not do so.
"We are still waiting for (repair) plans to be submitted," Ellis said, noting that staff issued a permit to demolish the unsafe walkway to expedite that work.
Mohsenin said he gave Cruz 90 days' notice to move out by May 3 because of lease violations and that he is not obliged to provide relocation assistance because Cruz is in arrears on rent.
Cruz, an electronics technician at Lintelle Engineering before it downsized, said the two-bedroom unit cost $1,500 a month. He said he paid a $480 plumbing bill and electrician for the landlord and replaced a broken window and thus does not owe the landlord.
City Attorney John Barisone said tenants who are displaced with less than 30 days' notice because of unsafe conditions are entitled to three weeks' rent or 30 days in a safe living situation.
"It's their choice, not the landlord's," he said.
If the landlord and tenant disagree, the tenant can seek help from California Rural Legal Assistance, he said.
It's unusual when the city tells residents to move out due to unsafe conditions. The last case was in 2010 at 390 W. Cliff Drive, an 18-unit oceanview condo complex which was torn down and then rebuilt; most of the occupants were owners instead of tenants.