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Landlord Limbo : Owner Finds Road to Condo Conversion Is More Like a Maze

May 08, 1986|ALAN CITRON | Times Staff Writer

For almost two years, actor Kenneth Blasor-Wilson has played the role of unofficial poster boy for Santa Monica's novel condominium conversion plan.

He was the first landlord to apply for permission to convert his rent-controlled apartments to condominiums. He was the first to win approval. He even joined in a press conference last year, smiling broadly as officials cut a ribbon on the front lawn of his modest Virginia Avenue apartment complex.

But Blasor-Wilson is no longer smiling. Five months after the city OKd his application, the 38-year-old actor finds himself in a sort of landlord limbo, unable to secure financial backing for his four-unit condominium conversion and too emotionally and financially committed to the project to back out.

"I don't know how to explain how bad this has been," said Blasor-Wilson, who has appeared in "Dynasty" and "Days of Our Lives." "I would never ever do this again. Nor would I recommend that anyone else do it. All in all, it has been one of the worst experiences of my life."

Bureaucratic Tie-Ups

Blasor-Wilson has been frustrated by a series of setbacks, some caused by bureaucratic tie-ups and some by financing difficulties. Many of the problems were to be expected, according to people familiar with the law, because he is the first apartment owner to attempt a conversion, the first seeking to use the untested program as a way to escape Santa Monica's rigid rent control law.

But Blasor-Wilson said he had not anticipated such trouble.

"I feel very much like a victim of circumstance, completely powerless," he said. "The whole thing sounded easy in the beginning. I thought we would wrap it up in maybe three to six months. That was two years ago."

Ironically, the conversion law approved in June, 1984, is supposed to provide relief for frustrated landlords such as Blasor-Wilson. In theory, it makes it possible for an apartment owner to sell his units and get out of the landlord business. In practice, it has yet to produce a satisfied customer.

Officials have received conversion applications for about 1% of the city's apartment stock of 33,000 units. Blasor-Wilson's is the only project that has received the city's go-ahead and none of the projects has been financed.

Some contend that the process is so slow because the requirements for converting are so stiff. For example, two-thirds of a building's residents have to approve a conversion. Half the tenants must agree to purchase their units and negotiate the prices with their landlords. After that, local, county and state officials must approve the plan and the parties must obtain financing.

Santa Monica Mayor Christine E. Reed recently likened the conversion process to an "endless journey through a dark tunnel." Others have called the program overly complicated.

'Ken Was the Pioneer'

Paul DeSantis, the leader of a broad alliance of activists who created the program, said officials are trying to streamline it. Someone who applied for a condominium conversion permit today would probably be able to complete the process in less than a year, DeSantis said. But he conceded that Blasor-Wilson, by virtue of being first, has had a difficult time.

"Ken was the pioneer," DeSantis said. "There were a lot of start-up problems . . . and he has grounds for being frustrated. There's no question about it. He has had everything happen that could happen."

Things weren't always so grim for Blasor-Wilson. Nearly two years ago, when an overwhelming percentage of Santa Monica voters approved the innovative condominium plan, Blasor-Wilson said the program seemed like a godsend. He had purchased his apartment building with his father and brother in 1980, one year after the passage of one of the nation's toughest rent control laws.

Good Investment

At the time he viewed the $200,000 building as a good investment, Blasor-Wilson said. But with rents limited to $300 a month, the family was unable to turn a profit. And by 1984, when the conversion law passed, Blasor-Wilson said his family was anxious to get out of the apartment business.

Striking deals on his two-bedroom apartments was easy because Blasor-Wilson, his wife and daughter occupied one unit. The others were rented by a sister, a brother and a friend. They agreed that the lower units would sell for $78,900, while the upper apartments would go for $82,400.

Blasor-Wilson got in touch with DeSantis, a conversion consultant, one month after the law was approved. DeSantis said Blasor-Wilson was ready to begin the conversion immediately, but was forced to wait until September, when Santa Monica officials released a 25-page conversion application.

With DeSantis' help (his company has charged about $5,000 for its services), Blasor-Wilson received tentative approval for the conversion in October, 1984. Afterward, however, it took nearly a year for city, county and state officials to process all of the required forms.

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