A San Clemente-based investment firm has evicted dozens of residents at 781 Embarcadero Del Norte after first buying the property last April, continually hiking up rent prices and routinely handing out eviction notices.
Last Friday, Isla Vista Tenants’ Union protested outside the apartment building, drawing further attention to the sudden renovations, rent increases and evictions which immediately followed Platler Capital Management’s purchase of the building. At the time of the building’s purchase last year, some units were rented out for about $1,200, while current prices reach as high as $1,800. I.V. Tenants’ Union has now taken legal action against the investment firm, stating that the evictions are a violation of County Ordinance 4444, which requires residents receive a 60-day notice and relocation assistance following such an eviction notice.
Hilary Kleger, the community advisor for Associated Students, said Platler Capital Management began increasing rent prices and pushing out lower income residents within days of purchasing the building.
“It didn’t come to everybody’s attention at first — it wasn’t alarming or fishy. But then we realized what was happening to everyone,” Kleger said. “When they bought the place, they took ownership on April 27. On May 1, they issued a few eviction notices and everyone else got a 10 percent increase in rent.”
According to attorney Robin Unander, who is representing the evicted residents of 781 Embarcadero Del Norte, Platler Capital Management — which is primarily owned by Los Angeles-based investor Matthew Platler — has essentially covered their tracks using the title of a “limited liability company,” or LLC, entitled 781 EDN.
The LLC is similar to one founded by Daniel Smith, a business partner of Platler’s who was involved in a similar eviction scandal at a building on Ladera Street in Santa Barbara. Unander said both investors have managed to deny responsibility through this legal loophole allowing them to not officially assume ownership “on paper, per se.”
The recent strings of evictions occurring throughout Santa Barbara County have become increasingly frequent, Unander said.
“There’s this weird grouping of investors I’m noticing where some are connected, some are not. Matt Platler seems to be a common denominator on some of these,” Unander said. “They shop around; they find nice little property that needs some improvements … So the mindset is to improve the property and raise rent payments and get a return on their investment.”
As Craigslist advertisements display residence descriptions targeting students and families are gradually pushed out of properties, it is clear investors like Platler are practicing what Unander calls a “classic investment strategy” that oftentimes leaves former residents, who are commonly low-income families, with no other form of housing.
Christie Mezo, a resident who has lived in the complex for two years, said the majority of the building was previously occupied by families but once Platler Capital took ownership, families were slowly forced out of the building.
“Everything went downhill from there,” Mezo said.
Along with higher rent prices, there were also notices requiring residents to purchase $50 parking permits and instances of neglected maintenance. Mezo said Platler is explicitly targeting students who are more able to pay the increased prices.
“He’s making it student housing, basically. It’s going to be a turnover … I don’t think a family would pay $1,800 for one bedroom,” Mezo said. “So he’s got all the families moving out. It’s a shitty situation that’s going on.”
While Mezo said she has dealt with Platler firsthand and Platler has signed all eviction notices at the building, Platler has denied involvement.
“I am simply the investment adviser. I’m not involved with the property and I don’t have any comment,” Platler said. “I have no idea what you’re saying, my company does not own property.”
I.V. Tenants’ Union Chair Samir Azizi said the evictions left families searching for new housing just as the holidays began.
“It was difficult for tenants to move on because it was right before Christmas time, right before the new year,” Azizi said. “I mean you need to find a new place to live, and a lot of tenants work here at the restaurants and a lot of them have children who go to the elementary school.”
While most students moving into the complex were initially unaware of the situation, Aziz said some student residents began joining I.V. Tenants’ Union upon learning the details of the situation.
Current 781 Embarcadero del Norte resident Kai Medeiros, a third-year year global studies and Spanish major, said the property management’s motives were clear, as he witnessed the shifting demographics and continual construction.
“One by one, a family moves out and students move in, as each apartment gets renovated,” Medeiros said. “It seems pretty obvious what’s going on.”
The strategy being enacted at 781 EDN is intentional and unfair to the lives of the working families most affected by it, according to Unander.
“They target apart complexes with mostly Latino families or low-income people, working families on housing assistance trying to get by, and he targeted them, kicked them out and are trying to put in students at higher rates,” Unander said.
Residents who lived in the building at the time of Platler’s initial purchase stated they were in direct communication with him until around December, when other agents and property managers began communicating with tenants.
Kleger said former residents understood Platler’s intentions, as he made them clear in his early interactions with these tenants.
“The man who was the on-site manager at the time [the building was purchased] asked, ‘Why are you evicting us?’ Platler responded, ‘What do you pay in rent?’ When the man replied what his rent fee was, Platler said, ‘That’s why,’” Kleger said.
The demographics of Isla Vista can be dramatically shifted by the financial influence of investors and property owners such as Platler, according to Unander.
“These investors come up, typically from L.A., and they don’t care,” Unander said. “Buy low, sell high, mix it up, rent to students who will pay more — there’s no regard of the people’s lives upset in the process. Not their problem.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 29th, 2013′s print edition of the Nexus.