Photo courtesy of Ray Scotty Morris
Residents of 55 West Fifth in San Mateo formed a tenants association Sunday night to try and negotiate with ownership over an ongoing construction project. They named Jerome Miller, standing near center, as its president.
Current residents who live at the 17-story complex near downtown San Mateo — rebranded the 55 West Fifth last year — formed a tenants association a few days ago in hopes of stopping an ongoing construction project they say will benefit future tenants but not the ones who live there now.
Jerome Miller was named president of the group after it was officially formed Sunday. About 60 current tenants gathered Sunday evening to unite in their efforts to stop a mandatory washer and dryer installation started by the property’s new owner, Equity Residential, which bought the tower and adjoining buildings for $93 million in August 2012.
The property was previously named Townhouse Plaza and was owned by Westlake Realty Group.
“We want to stop the washer/dryer project where it is and see if Equity feels they can still advertise the 55 building as having in-unit washer dryers,” Miller told the Daily Journal. “We also want compensation for all of the lost quiet enjoyment and habitability. They are charging full price and act as if there is nothing wrong with this place. Renters feel tricked, lied to and clearly unsatisfied. Even the new ones.”
Rents have jumped 15 percent and more for some tenants since Equity bought the property last year. All residents are also now paying an additional $165 or more a month for utility charges, which Westlake previously covered.
Many of the tower’s current residents are 80 years old or more and are feeling pressure to move as they feel new ownership is seeking to rent to younger “techies.”
Officials with Equity, however, said the building is in need of some major updating and that most of its tenants prefer to have a washer and dryer in their unit.
Miller has said he will not let construction crews into his unit to install the necessary plumbing and venting needed for the washer/dryer project unless he is offered compensation.
On Monday, attorney Sam Ferdows sent a letter to Equity on behalf of tenant Manije Windell, who just moved into the tower June 1 after signing a one-year lease.
The 70-year-old signed the lease without being informed of extensive and continuing construction activity, according to the letter.
“Equity Residential is put on notice to cease and desist from entering Ms. Windell’s apartment in order to perform any construction, renovation or similar work at the premises,” Ferdows wrote in the letter.
Ferdows also cites a July 3 Daily Journal article “New owner, new problems: Elderly in high-rise apartment complex feeling pushed out” about how Equity has continued construction work in some apartments for weeks longer than projected.
Workers came into Hin Wing Li’s apartment May 22 to install a closet and plumbing for the washer and dryer and did not finish the project for nearly six weeks, forcing Li to sleep on his bed in the living room. The project was complete, coincidentally, the day after the Daily Journal article was published.
Units currently rent from $2,300 for a single bedroom to $4,100 for a three-bedroom unit at 55 West Fifth.
Miller has even sparred with some in San Mateo’s building division as to whether Equity sought and received the proper permits before starting construction.
Miller has asked to see and copy some of Equity’s plans but has been denied so far for a variety of reasons, he told the Daily Journal.
“We had 81 people in attendance last night who want to know what is planned inside their apartment units. It would be impractical for them and the city to have all of us come down to the building desk as a group or individually. Your conference rooms don’t seem to hold that many people and you will have [building official] Stephen [Lau] working overtime,” Miller wrote to the City Attorney’s Office Monday.
San Mateo Mayor David Lim has reached out to the California Apartment Associations to set up a meeting between the tenants and ownership to try to mediate some of the concerns. 55 West Fifth is a member of the CAA.
“Although the City Council has no formal jurisdiction over the apartment complex, I nonetheless share the concerns of many of the residents who live there,” Lim wrote in an email to a tenant.
Equity spokesman Marty McKenna told the Daily Journal the company will wait to address resident concerns after it actually receives them.
“We will wait to comment when we hear what they are seeking,” he said.
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