If you got through Hurricane Hilary with minimal trouble, count your blessings. The hurricane did a number on all 40 units of the Otsego Villas in North Hollywood.
I used to be a property manager. While I am not a lawyer, I do know from my experience managing apartments that Otsego's management is in violation of state law.
Rule number one of owning a property (whether you live in it yourself or rent it out) is that WATER DAMAGE ALWAYS NEEDS TO BE DEALT WITH IMMEDIATELY, NO EXCEPTIONS.
Water can ruin buildings. Water can cause downright dangerous structural damage, and the resulting mold can severely sicken or even kill residents.
There's a thing called an "implied warranty of habitability" with rental units. California state law requires owners to deal with water leaks, anything that causes dampness, and mold.
Did any of that ever happen at Otsego? Well, the tenants can tell you all about it themselves on their YouTube channel. There's more content on their Instagram.
In the very first video, displaced tenant Stormy mentions early on that the tenants were accustomed to the fire alarm going off. Uh, it is NOT normal for the fire alarm to go off all the time. Tenants had also been reporting termites and mold for years, only to be ignored by management.
Another red flag: unpermitted roofing work began in July 2023, performed by workers who were seen lounging around common areas, leaving emergency exits propped open, and DRINKING BEER ON THE ROOF. (Drink all you want, but not at work.)
According to the tenants, the roofing work was also incomplete at the time of the hurricane.
Unpermitted work done by possibly-drunk workers, still not finished six weeks later, resulting in catastrophic water damage. Does this surprise anyone at all?
A re-roofing permit was only issued August 24, several days AFTER the hurricane.
Tenants called the property management company's emergency number. For hours, it went to voicemail. Tenants were eventually told to "put down some buckets". No one ever showed up to help.
Roofs collapsed. Air conditioners broke. (Again, Otsego is in North Hollywood and this happened in August, when Valley temperatures can easily break 100 degrees.) Tenants reported serious mold sickness - moisture plus heat equals mold.
Tenants report receiving NO relocation assistance, NO temporary housing, NO support, and NO reimbursement for damaged possessions. Stormy mentioned that his work schedule was severely disrupted due to all the chaos at the building.
"Why don't they just leave?" some of you may wonder. It's not that easy. Some of the tenants have nowhere to go (Stormy has been couch-hopping far from work with his husky), or can't afford to leave, or may not be able to find accessible housing (more on that in a minute). The tenants' association reports that they are all still being forced to pay rent, despite the condition of the building.
This is an actual email from the management company, which appears to consist of word salad:
If I had been this dismissive of a tenant with a habitability issue, I would have been fired immediately. My old boss took tenant rights very seriously and did everything strictly by the book. In fact, when one of the buildings flooded, she stayed in contact with me until the two affected apartments were back to normal.
An Instagram reel shows another tenant unable to leave the building because her wheelchair cannot fit down the hallway with the construction chaos blocking her path. I question whether management has ever heard of ADA compliance.
If you think apartment-hunting is hard in LA, try looking for wheelchair-accessible housing. I guarantee you it's MUCH harder. Apartments built or modified to accommodate wheelchair users and other renters with disabilities are FEW and FAR between. This is bad enough, but if the elevator stops working (due to mechanical failure, fire, or a power outage), renters with a mobility disability may be trapped upstairs (or unable to get home) until the elevator is working again.
Take a minute to think about what that's like. You're stuck on your floor, you're also stuck in your apartment if the hallway is obstructed, you can't go to work (unless you can work remotely), if your car is parked on the street you may not be able to move it in time for street-sweeping day, and what if you get a delivery driver who refuses to deliver to your door? And if the elevator fails while you're not home, how are you supposed to get home?
(If I ever get rich enough, I swear I'm going to partner with a reputable builder on a complex that has fully accessible units on the ground floor so no one is ever trapped in, or out of, their home due to elevator failure.)
Since management has been unhelpful, the tenants have also repeatedly tried contacting the owner of the building via phone, email, and postal mail. The owner has never responded.
The tenants claim to have filed 20+ complaints with the city and county. Crickets.
I checked ZIMAS for complaints myself. A complaint filed October 3 was listed as "referred to housing department" and CLOSED.
The tenants have been tagging local news outlets on their posts. None of them have covered this. They have also tagged Paul Krekorian and Mayor Bass. Crickets.
The audacity - of the owner, the management, and the city.
"Luxury villas", my ass. The majority of renters don't need more "luxury units". Renters need safe, properly-maintained homes with responsible, competent, and ethical management.
I'll leave you with these parting words from the Otsego Tenants Association's Instagram: "Prime West Management, (the responsible company of record) never, repeat NEVER, provided a relocation plan for ANY OF US TENANTS, and were told to “leave immediately” or “go through your insurance, we can’t help you”. The tenants displaced due to the uninhabitable state of the building are also being charged rent…Our home was destroyed. We’re seeking justice."
(This is also illegal as hell. Tenants are legally entitled to 30 days' notice to move out if they have been there for under one year, or 60 days' notice if they have been there for more than one year.)
If anyone out there knows a good lawyer who can help, or if any reporters out there would like to cover this, please reach out and I'll make sure the information gets to the tenants.