Sandy Brown first knew something was wrong when a letterhead for Tiverton Court apartments in Westwood stated that the building has "48 luxury units," but an accompanying promotional letter described it as a 57-unit building.
Later, at an open house for the new building, Brown became even more suspicious when she counted 60 mailboxes on a table in the garage.
In the end, Los Angeles building investigators determined that the four-story building in fact has 63 units--15 more than allowed by a building permit issued for the project in 1985.
The developer, Arnold Kaufman, had illegally divided a series of two-bedroom apartments into one-bedroom apartments and separate bootleg bachelor units by adding new hallway doors and covering interior doors with bookcases and paneling, city building officials said.
On Tuesday, under pressure from city building investigators and Westwood residents weary of parking and traffic problems in the congested community, Kaufman agreed to remove the extra apartments and convert the building back to 48 units.
City officials had threatened to file criminal charges against him if he did not comply.
"It is going to cost me a bundle," Kaufman said later in an interview. "I feel like I am being persecuted. They are after me for something."
Brown, a member of the Friends of Westwood, a residents group that filed a complaint with the city about the project in February, denied that Kaufman had been singled out. The organization fights illegal conversions--no matter how large or small--because of their effect on parking and traffic, she said.
"Parking is the one thing in Westwood that we have a shortage of, and if this is going to contribute to an even greater shortage, then we have a problem with it," Brown said of the added apartments. "He has enough parking for 48 units. No more."
Maria Chong, a deputy to Westwood-area Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, said Kaufman created his own problems.
"Obviously, he knew what he was doing," Chong said. "He was given a permit for 48 units and he has intentionally gone in and put in 15 additional units. We don't want them to think that they can get away with this. If we allowed them to get away with this, we would end up having 150 additional units in the area."
Kaufman's decision to remove the units will dislocate 15 of his tenants, he said. They have been given 30-day eviction notices, and since the apartments were built after 1978, Kaufman is not obligated to provide relocation assistance to them, rent stabilization officials said. The city' rent control law--including provisions for relocation assistance--applies to buildings occupied before Oct. 1, 1978.
"I am madder than hell," said Sylvia Tietjen, a fourth-floor tenant who has rented one of the bootleg units since January. "It is not my fault that I rented this out in good faith from someone I thought was a respected landlord. It makes me ill to have to start putting things in boxes."
Tietjen pays $575 a month for a one-room apartment that has a small refrigerator and microwave oven but no kitchen. Tietjen said she searched for three months for an apartment in the Westwood area that she could afford.
Hard to Find Housing
"Do you know how hard it is to try to find housing for under $600 in this area in a security building?" said Tietjen, who signed a one-year lease for her apartment.
"I had no idea the apartment was illegal," she said. "It was represented to me that things were this way as a convenience for people who work close by, do not have a great deal of money, but want to stay in the area."
In an eviction letter to Tietjen and the other tenants in bootleg units, Kaufman said the eviction "has been imposed upon us" by Yaroslavsky and the Friends of Westwood.
Laura M. Lake, president of the group, said some evictions could have been avoided if the city had responded more quickly to the group's letter of complaint.
"I wrote the letter in February and we got a response in July, saying, 'Yes, you are right,' " Lake said. "I feel badly that there are tenants renting units in a building where they have to leave, but it was practically an unoccupied building when we wrote the letter. It took the city six months to react."
Larry Montgomery, a building inspector in West Los Angeles who helped investigate the Tiverton Court case, said the department looks into all complaints as soon as possible, but that delays are not uncommon because of a shortage of inspectors and because some developers challenge the department's rulings.
After putting in 15 exterior doors to the bootleg units, for example, Kaufman then applied for permits to make them legal. The request was denied when inspectors determined the doors could create additional apartments. Kaufman then appealed.
It was only Tuesday, during a hearing on the appeal, that Kaufman finally relented and decided not to fight the building inspectors. Kaufman said after that hearing--the second on his appeal--that he realized he was fighting a losing battle.
"Who wants to fight the Building Department?" Kaufman said. "We did something that we thought we could do, that we (thought we) had a right to do, but evidently we don't. . . . I was rather naive. I thought I had a right to survive economically."
The Board of Building and Safety Commissioners gave Kaufman 90 days to remove the 15 units. Kaufman said he expects to evict the tenants by Nov. 1.
Brown, of the Friends of Westwood, said she hopes Kaufman's problems will serve as an example for other developers.
"All we are saying is follow the law," Brown said.