If you stood on top of the new Broad museum in Downtown Los Angeles and had really good aim, you could hurl a basketball right into a ginormous "resort-style" swimming pool on Bunker Hill. And you wouldn't hurt anyone, because, these days, there's hardly anyone ever in it.
A stalemate that's kept residents of the (90 percent) rent-controlled Bunker Hill Apartments locked out of the recreation area, which is owned by the Bunker Hill Tower condo owners, slogs on into its third summer. (I've lived in the complex for many years and written before about how this dispute affects me, my fellow renters, and the entire community.)
These three concrete structures were originally built together in the late sixties as part of the city-sponsored "redevelopment" of Downtown. In 1980, the 32-story tower that faces First Street went condo. An easement agreement signed at that time gave renters in the 456 units in the other two 19-story structures continued access to the pool, spa, tennis courts, and barbecue area. In exchange, the apartment's landlord was to pay for two-thirds of the upkeep—court documents show their portion of the routine monthly costs amounted to $4,523.98.
For 32 years, long before DTLA became a hashtag, renters and condo-owners happily dove into the same chlorine without incident. Then, in 2012, a rift occurred, centering around a half-million-dollars-worth of work the condo proposed for the recreation area. At issue: whether that work could be classified as maintenance or an upgrade. Essex Property Trust, the publicly-traded owner of the apartments, claims it was an upgrade, and that they shouldn't have to pay any portion of it. The condo association claims the work, which included repaving of the pool decking, piping, renovation of a restroom cabana, and (proposed) installation of an ADA ramp was necessary maintenance.
When Essex refused to pay a two-thirds portion of those bills, and also withheld payment of regular monthly expenses, the condo's homeowners association acted on a provision in the easement agreement allowing them to terminate it. Then, to make it clear they meant business, they erected a 10-foot iron fence. (They later added a veil of meshing around the exposed western side of the pool to keep people from looking in.)
Essex retaliated by suing not just the condo association but each of the building's 300 owners—making it hard for prospective buyers to get mortgages. Condo-dwellers maintain insurance is paying legal fees for all, and that the added costs picked up by their HOA are not a problem.
And yet now there's evidence of dissent within the condo community. Recent court documents show a subset of frustrated owners has hired their own lawyers, angry that the lawsuit has dragged on.
To make up for a city-mandated rent reduction they had to give rent-controlled tenants for the loss of services, Essex built a swank new barbecue grill area on the semi-public Bunker Hill plaza, and offered passes to swim at pools at other properties they owned a half-mile away. Later, they launched a massive $76-million dollar renovation of the entire property. (Raising the hackles of condo-dwellers who wondered why, if they could afford that, they wouldn't pony up the cash for the pool.)
Prospective tenants, once toured around the glorious oasis that abuts Flower Street, are now shuffled past by leasing agents—and shown a "conceptual rendering" of a recreation area that could some day be built atop the guest parking lot (which backs up against the Third Street Tunnel).
The latest filing from a hearing in Superior Court show a trial date is set for January 2016. Assume everyone doesn't drown in legal fees first. —Lisa Napoli
· Renters Battle Buyers in Pool Access War at Bunker Hill Towers [Curbed LA]