“These people have been put in prison and prison is not a home.” This was one of the statements made at the Fullerton city council meeting on September 20 regarding the affordable senior housing property Ventana, located on Commonwealth Ave.
Two recent communications from property managers have impacted Ventana residents. The Fullerton Observer recently reported a Ventana management plan to increase rents by 30% at the low-income affordable complex. As soon as the story was published, the paper received a company statement that the rent increase information was sent to residents in error and that notices were announced by management before any increase was approved by property owner, Richman Group of California.
The statement read: “The recent notice that was sent to our residents was distributed prematurely before our internal review process was complete. The actual rent increase will be 10% and will take effect November 1st. We apologize for any concerns the premature message may have created.”
The Observer was also notified hours after the story was released that Ventana residents received notices on their doors stating: “All community areas, gym-patios-hallway-elevator-lobby are open from 8am-10pm. Any time before or after these hours are a violation of your lease agreement.”
According to the updated lease agreement (signed in Feb. 2022): “Owner reserves the right to set the days and hour of use for all amenities and to change the character of or close any Amenity based upon the needs of Owner and in Owner’s sole and absolute discretion, without notice, obligation or recompense of any nature to Resident.”
Some residents have said that this is retaliation because of the recent article that was published and because the tenants have been organizing.
According to California Code, Civil Code – CIV § 1942.5, “it is unlawful for a lessor (landlord) to increase rent, decrease services, cause a lessee to quit involuntarily, bring an action to recover possession, or threaten to do any of those acts, for the purpose of retaliating against the lessee because he or she has lawfully organized or participated in a lessees’ association or an organization advocating lessees’ rights or has lawfully and peaceably exercised any rights under the law.”
As stated in the notice the tenants received, “any time before or after these hours are a violation of your lease agreement,” but multiple tenants who have been living at Ventana for 4+ years said this is the first time they have heard of these restrictions and have never received a notice like this before.
Some tenants are furious that closing hallways and the lobby between 10pm and 8am means they won’t be able to leave their apartment during those hours. One tenant said, “I guess if I don’t make it back in time, I will have to sleep somewhere else, because I can’t enter the lobby or use the hallways.”
We reached out to Richman’s PR representative requesting a copy of the lease agreement and asked the following: “Many who have lived in Ventana for multiple years have said this is the first time they’ve heard of this. Why is this the first time these residents have received this type of notice? Can you explain why the hallways and elevators are closed, especially since this is a senior living area and many need assistance walking? And how is it enforced?”
To which the representative responded, “The notice was incorrect. The only change in hours was to the patios where the team received some noise complaints. The hallways, elevator and lobby remain open 24 hours.”
The day after getting the notices some of the tenants called the office. The office responded to the residents who called saying that it was a mistake. However, to date, no correction notice has been released to the residents.
The residents have been holding tenant meetings ever since the rent increase was announced. Fullerton City Councilmember Ahmad Zahra has attended the meetings and is advocating for the tenants.
Zahra has contacted other local leaders to see what can be done about these issues. He asked the City Manager to look at Richman Group of California’s contract with the City to see if they are in violation of it. He said, “as we suspected, they have violated the agreement by not informing the City; per the agreement they have to inform the city of any [rent] increases and they did not do that, but it is still up to legal interpretation if the new 10% increase is still valid.”
Zahra also reached out to the mayor of Santa Ana because “they had a rent ordinance program that helped fill the gaps that the California’s rent stabilization law did not cover, so they did what the state law didn’t cover, however they [Santa Ana] weren’t able to cover the low-income housing,” he said.
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