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Quest for Shelter Where the Mountains Meet No-Vacancies-by-the-Sea : Renters Have Tough Time Locating in Santa Monica

May 04, 1986|DAVE LARSEN | Times Staff Writer

By now Charles Redmond is used to hearing it: "You get me an apartment here and I'll take care of you."

Redmond is the manager of a 16-story apartment building overlooking the bay in Santa Monica. The Chamber of Commerce slogan in the community is: "Where the Mountains Meet the Sea." Nowadays there are others who prefer to substitute: "The Land of the Treasure Hunt."

The highly sought treasure is a rental unit, particularly desirable because of rent controls enacted in 1979, possibly the strictest in the nation. Trying to find a vacancy in Santa Monica is like trying to catch water in a sieve.

Creative Strategies

And creative indeed are the strategies employed to become a tenant in one of the 30,000 rental units--mostly apartments--which come under the rent control charter amendment.

"I know that some apartment seekers will approach a letter carrier and ask if he or she knows of anybody moving out on that route," said Howell Tumlin, rent control administrator in Santa Monica.

"Some of the people," Ed Triana said, "will stop at our moving vans in front of Santa Monica apartments and ask whether we are moving someone in or out, and will ask the names of those being moved."

Triana, owner of Culver City Van & Storage, which is active throughout the Westside, said that if he is working one of the trucks, he refers any questions to those being moved.

"Perhaps it is a separation or divorce situation, and the husband or wife doesn't care to give out any information," the company owner said. "So out of courtesy, neither do I. But we are forever being asked things, even what the rent is at that apartment.

"We constantly get phone calls at the office from apartment seekers, asking if we will be moving anyone out in Santa Monica. I feel it is a confidential matter as far as our customers are concerned, and I don't give out anything."

'Playing Games'

James W. Baker, a leading spokesman for the apartment owners (he despises the word landlord), has nothing against classified ads, but cautioned: "Any owner placing an ad for a vacancy in Santa Monica is playing games with his sanity. He'll get 150 applicants the first day, and the phone won't stop ringing."

Indeed, one new owner of an apartment building in the town, who asked not to be identified, made what she said was the mistake of placing such an ad and lamented: "After the calls had reached probably 400, I took the phone off the hook."

Hoping to find such precious ads, apartment seekers show up at the local newspaper, the Santa Monica Evening Outlook, in the morning to get what they feel is an edge. They buy a copy before it reaches the racks, dealers and subscribers, and head for the nearest pay phones with their pockets full of dimes.

There is another category of ads, "Wanted to Rent," or "Rentals Wanted," placed by prospective tenants or their representatives in newspapers: "$750 reward . . . $500 finders fee . . . Will pay to find . . . Highest Reward . . . " The practice of paying such fees is illegal in Santa Monica. It is also widespread.

The Rev. James P. Conn, minister of the Church in Ocean Park (United Methodist) and a Santa Monica city councilman, said one method of apartment hunting is to walk or drive up and down the streets, looking for signs. Others counter that this is futile, that there are precious few vacancies listed on signs outside the buildings.

A Waste of Time

"Signs do go up," Conn maintained, "although they are probably more rare in the (trendy) Wilshire-Montana corridor than in the Ocean Park area."

Tumlin feels such tactics are a waste of time: "Cruising the streets to seek a 'For Rent' sign accomplishes little. I have been the administrator since 1980, and I haven't seen such a sign in years. Except possibly for units that are exempt from rent controls (owner-occupied dwellings with no more than three units), and where the monthly price can be much higher."

And, lo, agreement from Baker: "Nobody puts up signs anymore. That way lies madness."

Boards left over from before 1979 do hang forlornly in front of many apartment structures, gathering dust, their wording originally meant to lure tenants, instead now a sad reminder of more tranquil days: "Deluxe apts. Elevators-Fireplaces-Spacious Rooms-Self-Cleaning Ovens." Below this the inevitable current words: "Sorry, No Vacancy."

But there are other strategies. "I have heard of people keeping their eyes out for a paint truck in front of a building," Tumlin said. "They know it is being renovated, is possibly empty, and want to be inside and be shown the apartment while the paint is still wet."

Then there is the belief--a mistaken belief, Tumlin said--that nailing down a new tenancy can be accomplished this way: "A friend of someone moving out tenders a check to the owner. The thought is that if the check is accepted and cashed, the owner has entered into a landlord-tenant relationship and the new check writer must get the place."

Their Own Grapevine

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