Tenants Say They Received 3-Day Notice To Get Out After Requesting Mold Inspections
A group of tenants say they were given a 3-day notice to vacate their homes after asking for black mold inspections. Several tenants of a nine-unit apartment building at 54th Place and Ocean in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach say they were given sudden three-day notices to vacate their units after requesting an inspection from the company that manages the building, Entourage Property Management LLC, according to Long Beach Post (on Yelp, Entourage seems to either have excoriating 1-star reviews or glowing 5-star reviews). The inspection requests came after one tenant requested a black mold test and the results came back positive. After finding this out, the other neighbors also decided to also ask for an inspection.
Tenants say the notice refers to a vague "health problem" that may or may not actually exist, but they don't understand why they're not getting more information about that health problem.
Legally speaking, a tenant can be asked to move out if given a 30- or 60-day notice, depending on how long they've lived there. A landlord can only give a tenant a three-day notice if the tenant does something like severely damages the property, uses it for something illegal or doesn't pay the rent.
Josh Butler of Housing Long Beach told LAist that there's a specific clause in this particular notice that states the tenants are being evicted due to partial or complete destruction of the units. And that, he says, is what's so weird about this particular case.
"I've never heard of this particular clause being invoked for partial or complete destruction or damage to the unit," he says. "From talking to people, it sounds like that is something that would be invoked if a tenant willfully destroyed the property—took out a sledgehammer and demoed the place. Or, if there was a earthquake, tsunami or flood which rendered the unit unlivable."
In that case, either the tenant or landlord could serve the three-day notice, Butler said. What Butler actually suspects is that the landlord is doing this out of retaliation, because he doesn't want to go through the hassle of the inspections, or sees it as an opportunity to renovate the building and hike up the rent, as the neighborhood is particularly affluent. He said that it all started about five weeks ago when a woman living in the building fell ill and was ultimately hospitalized. There, doctors determined she had been infected with black mold. Butler said she'd been complaining to her landlord with no response for a while, and it was only after she got sick that the apartment was tested for mold. The landlord paid for her and her family to stay in a hotel while the unit was cleaned up.
"I've been in [the unit]," Butler said. "They took the baseboards down and did an extensive amount of work to clean up the unit. The other tenants who found out about it then contacted management and wanted their own tests."
Of the eight other tenants, seven of them requested tests, Butler said. It's those seven, and not the single tenant who did not request a test, who received notices. Butler believes that because he served only the tenants who asked for an inspection with a three-day notice, they have a good chance of winning the fight. Long Beach does not have rent control, so there's really no monetary incentive to get long-term tenants out. And, Butler said, if the landlord really wanted them all gone, he could have served them with 30-day notices if they had lived there for less than a year, or 60-day notices if they had lived there for longer.
"Long Beach is a no fault eviction [city]," Butler explained. "He wouldn't even have had to tell them why."
Because these particular tenants live in an affluent neighborhood, they likely have a greater ability to fight their landlord than other renters who may not have similar means, especially in a city with a 2.5% vacancy rate and rising rents.
"Our question is, if this can happen in Belmont Shore, then God help our low-income residents in other parts of the city who may even speak English as a first language. How would they respond to hardball tactics like this?"
Butler said that retaliation tactics used by landlords often include not fixing up properties or hiking up the rent. The latter is hard to prove as retaliation, as landlords often claim they're just raising the rent to bring up the market rate. He advises tenants who may find themselves in situations like these to challenge notices to vacate in writing, and to remember that landlords must give proper notices and that only judges can order evictions.
Update, 5:20 p.m.: We heard back from Larry Guesno, a supervisor with Entourage Property Management LLC, who offered to tell us their side of the story. Guesno tells LAist that he sympathizes with the tenants, but that the issue comes down to safety.
He said that the testing process for mold involves a visual test, but also an air test that will test to see if mold levels inside an apartment are significantly higher than mold levels outside. When the testing company they employed found higher levels of mold inside, their recommendation was to do a destructive investigation into the walls and ceilings of the affected units. This excluded one unit, at the top of the building, which had never had a history of leaks.
This process involves opening a portions of walls and ceilings, and if they continue to find more and more damaged wood, that means you have to keep going.
"The worst kind of mold that exists out of the 2 million types that exist are within wood that has been wet before because it never dries out until it's properly dealt with," he said. "The tenants are upset because they've been given notice to move. We're being overly cautious, but when it comes to people's health, I don't know if there's another answer than to be overly cautious."
Guesno said they haven't evicted anyone yet and they're willing to work with the tenants, but there's no way to no how long it will take to clear and then repair each unit. Guesno also said that the person who didn't receive a notice had already provided them with notice to move.
"I'm challenged to see how the landlord can be looked at as an evil monster in this scenario because really, what they're doing here is going to cost them thousands of dollars with no rental income, and it's just out of making sure [it's safe]," he said.
Guesno said he would prefer it if there were more regulations in place in Long Beach—similar in part to Los Angeles' rental control—so that these situations were more plainly spelled out. Such as, if something like this were to occur, there was a rule that stated landlords had to offer tenants a specific amount of money to move. As it stands, Guesno said they've offered the tenants their May rent and full security deposit back once they've turned in their keys.