Renters’ Predicament: Tenants asked to relocate during apartment remodel say they were treated unfairly

By Pat Sherman

Several renters at the Ocean House apartment complex at 400 Prospect St. say its owners and on-site management were not upfront with them about plans to remodel the building before they moved in this year.

John Simpson said he and his wife signed a 15-month lease with Ocean House in April. In May (before moving in), Simpson said he was told that the owners planned to renovate their unit, and signed a new, four-month lease with a $300 per-month reduction in rent.

However, Simpson said he only signed the new lease after being led to believe that he and his wife could occupy another unit at Ocean House while the work on his unit was being completed.

The couple arrived from New Mexico on July 7, receiving an e-mail the following evening from building management stating that they would be required to move out by Nov. 1 to accommodate a seven- to nine-month renovation of the entire building, not just their unit.

“They acted in bad faith,” Simpson said. “They didn’t tell us that this was a ‘go,’ that this had been planned all along. They said, ‘Well, maybe it might happen, maybe it might not.’ … Had we known the information contained in the letter of July 8, we never would have signed anything — not in April, not in May.”

John Burns said he and his wife entered into a one-year lease at Ocean House in February. They received the same letter that went out to all 60 units at Ocean House July 8, notifying them of “major building renovations” that would render Ocean House “uninhabitable during construction.”

It read, in part: “Although this letter does not constitute a formal termination of your lease, we want to let you know in advance to give you some time to consider options for alternative living arrangements,” adding that tenants would be allowed to terminate their lease per a 30-day written notice only on or after Sept. 1 “without paying any early termination charges.”

In the letter, management also offers to put renters in touch with “a local rental property broker that might assist you in finding a suitable local living arrangement” or help tenants relocate to one of Ocean House’s “sister properties.”

“I’m being turned out after only four months; Some residents … have been here over 20 years,” Burns said, via e-mail. “This is just not what anybody would expect when entering into a lease — nor is it acceptable — especially in La Jolla.”

Cindy Duffy, a spokesperson for Denver-based Aimco Apartments, which owns Ocean House, would not say how much rents might increase after the renovation, although the letter to renters states that they will be among the first to preview the renovated units and “sign a new lease at Ocean House at the then current market rate of the apartment home you choose,” with one month of free rent if signing a lease by April 1, 2015.

Duffy told the


renters were notified about the pending relocation “when we actually got the approval to move forward with the renovation.

“That approval and the projected timing wasn’t known for a while,” she said, adding that all Ocean House residents signed a “standard 60-day termination addendum to their lease when they moved in” (or when Aimco purchased the property in April 2013), which “gives us the contractual right to terminate their leases … in full compliance with California law.”

Aimco will officially issue termination notices on Sept. 1. “As a courtesy to our residents, we sent them a letter on July 8 (after our renovation project was approved by our company) so that they have four months to make relocation plans,” Duffy added.

Yvonne Kovatch, fair housing director with CSA San Diego County — a fair housing advocacy organization that mediates landlord/tenant disputes — said the length of a signed lease agreement typically takes precedence over any provision a landlord might slip into the rental agreement, though if both parties have signed an addendum, it is legally binding.

Duffy said common area renovations include a new ocean-view pool deck, gardens, fire pit, barbeque area and ocean-view fitness center. Apartments will be remodeled with high-end appliances and finishes in a contemporary, California coastal theme.

“We’re trying to make the apartment community reflective of the apartment market in La Jolla,” Duffy said, adding that the remodel was not the cause of any structural issues such as mold, termites or plumbing problems.

Although Burns and his wife are still weighing their options, the Simpsons moved out and have signed a lease at a complex on Genter Street.

Although the Simpsons were in their apartment at Ocean House less than a week, management initially told them they were responsible for rent through Aug. 9, refusing to accept their keys without payment.

After being contact by the


, Aimco waived any penalties and move-out fees, and will only charge the Simpsons for the three days they resided at Ocean House, Duffy said.