Conquest Student Housing plans to begin leasing its renamed and remodeled “Coronado” apartments next week after months of controversy regarding the eviction of the complex’s previous tenants.
Formerly named Cedarwood Apartments, the 55-unit complex opens for leasing Jan. 16 and will be fully refurbished by May. Conquest’s website claims the structure “will redefine student living standards in Isla Vista,” but lingering resentment may make for a difficult sale: Some student organizers have already called for a boycott of the property management company due to its involvement in the evictions.
Conquest Student Housing Manager Eric Johnson said, in his experience, people were very happy with the services Conquest provides, but that he could not comment further. As of Tuesday night, Conquest’s office in Los Angeles had not returned phone calls or e-mails from the Daily Nexus seeking comment.
This past August, the Cedarwood residents received eviction notices giving them a month to move. The tenants protested the decision, claiming discrimination on the basis of socio-economic status, race, and the fact that they were families, not students. Their case was brought before the Santa Barbara Superior Court in November; each tenant agreed to move out in exchange for a returned security deposit and removal of the eviction from their records.
Although the deed of 6626 Picasso Rd. – address of the property – merely lists 6626, LLC as its owner, many student and community organizers alleged from early on in the eviction process that Conquest was the real owner and power behind the name. Alan Smolinisky, owner of Conquest, declined comment on the matter this past fall after the Daily Nexus sought comment.
Kris Miller-Fisher, executive staff assistant for 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone, said the purchase of the apartments took place mid-August of 2006, and Conquest’s handling of the situation was highly unorthodox.
“[Conquest] clearly didn’t want to be known as the owner,” Miller-Fisher said. “We deal with this stuff all the time and their handling of the situation was very unusual.”
Third District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said Conquest’s decision not to admit its ownership of the apartments was legally valid, but also said that the tenants and other community members had a right to protest.
“I only recently found out when I saw their name on an official document,” Firestone said. “It was their right to go through lawyers and not say whether or not they were the owners. It was just an unfortunate situation. The response of the community and local agencies were some really good things that happened in a bad situation.”
Isla Vista Tenants Union advisor Carmela Galvez said the union was not aware that Conquest owned the apartments until the October trial where Conquest was named the plaintiff in the case. Galvez said Conquest’s avoidance of public responsibility for the evictions made it difficult for the tenants to protest the decision.
“The problem was that the old tenants and supporting community members didn’t know who to talk to about the evictions,” Galvez said. “It must have been Conquest’s strategy or legal advice from lawyers to handle the evictions that way.”
Following the evictions, students and community members organized a petition, gathering over 2,000 signatures in an attempt to boycott Conquest’s presence in I.V. Galvez said the petition was a valid method of protest, but she thinks positive action is the best method to prevent further incidents.
“The boycott is a powerful tool to stand up to something that people see as unjust,” Galvez said. “I hope that [students] move forward and be productive within the community and that Conquest has better communication with residents and community members in the future.”
Joel Rodriguez-Flores, Associated Students external vice president of local affairs, said organizers should continue working toward an ordinance to prevent landlords from evicting residents without certain conditions being met – a Just Cause Ordinance.
“The decision to evict the families was a business decision, because students can be milked for more money,” Rodriguez-Flores said. “The Just Cause Ordinance would prevent landlords from evicting tenants arbitrarily.”