Property owners, city respond to senior tenants’ concerns over rent increases

Nine-year resident Elsa Peeters who faces a rent increase walks her dog, Baby Love, in front of the Whispering Oaks Senior Apartments in Newhall, January 17, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

After concerns raised by tenants at a Newhall senior apartment complex over significant rent increases, property owners said Friday they’re working toward solutions with residents, while city and county officials said they’re monitoring the situation.

Tenants of the 65-unit Whispering Oaks Senior Apartments on Market Street found a notice posted on their doors on New Year’s Day about rent hikes ranging between 20% to 55% by Positive Investments Inc., an Arcadia-based property-management company.

Among them was Elsa Peeters, 78, a nine-year resident whose rent increased from $840 to $1,000. She relies on Social Security income and believes her monthly stipend won’t be enough to cover for the increase, which could leave her without a home, she said in Spanish.

Another tenant, Kathleen Fletcher, will soon reach eight years since moving into the apartment complex, and said Friday she doesn’t want to leave, but would have to consider doing so if a 55% rent increase goes through.

Whispering Oaks Senior Apartments in Newhall, January 17, 2020. Dan Watson/The Signal

“This is where I raised my children and paid taxes; this is not right,” Fletcher said. “My rent went from $840 a month to $1,300 (according to the notice). With an increase like this, try juggling that with utilities, food and medicine. All the residents here are older and some are rationing insulin to pay for food. We need a solution or you’ll have in Santa Clarita 65 seniors with various health issues living in the streets.”

Mayor Cameron Smyth said Friday he’s been in contact with a handful of tenants and said the city is “working with the county and are trying to determine what’s the best course of action. We want to make sure that any efforts on rent increase are done within the scope of the law and in cases where they are not, then it’s necessary for the city or county to step in and protect our residents.”

The state law in question, Assembly Bill 1482, which took effect Jan. 1, aims to protect residents from California’s rental market by prohibiting annual rent increases to more than 5% plus inflation; but Smyth and housing activists said the law is too vague when it comes to enforcement and that loopholes exist.

Positive Investments is already working to “negotiate” or “lower” the increases with tenants, according to an associate with the company who asked not to share his name, adding that he was unaware of why rent increases went above that allowed under state law.

“We are in the process of accommodating tenants by providing them financial assistance to move out or by lowering their rent, as well as offering extensions,” he said, adding that $2,000 would be given to those who would like to relocate. “Most said they want to stay, and we have multiple people that we decreased their rents already. We do want to help them out.”

The rent increase was due to meet the average market values, he added.

“Everyone around the area in affordable housing pay around $1,000 but people here pay only about $800 so it’ll be raised to the market value.,” he said. “The last property owner wasn’t doing that and (rent) was very under the market value.”

Fletcher said pro bono work was underway with attorneys from the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, who were unavailable for comment Friday. They’ve been contacted to investigate the legality of the rent increases.

As the property management company reaches out to its tenants, officials with the Los Angeles County Development Authority, which offers residents affordable housing and economic development programs, and the Housing Rights Center, a fair housing nonprofit organization, want residents to know they are available to help tenants.

“Every tenant is welcome to call us and ask questions,” said William Izmiryan, HRC’s director of counseling, “about their rights as tenants.”

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