In 2009, moving to Library Gardens seemed like a dream come true. It’s within walking distance to transportation, restaurants, movie theatres, schools, colleges, workout facilities, the library and city offices, not to mention its scenic downtown Berkeley views. However, our dream dwelling gave way to nightmarish undertones fairly quickly.
Initially, we felt like royalty while living at Library Gardens. The management and maintenance staffs were awesome. They were professional, friendly, responsive, prompt and, importantly, the management lived on-site. The property was not perfectly maintained, but it was much cleaner than in recent times.
By August 2010, living in Library Gardens took a downturn. The management and maintenance team who were there when we’d arrived were let go and, with the absence of the management living on the premises, many things began to go awry quickly.
One of the first things we noticed was that the complex began to lack in cleanliness. When entering certain stairwells, exits, and laundry rooms, tenants and visitors are forced to hold their breaths to keep from smelling the strong stench of urine, fecal matter, vomit, marijuana, cigarette smoke, or a combination of all five. Sometimes people doing drugs or sleeping are also discovered in these same stairwells, exits, and laundry rooms. Library Gardens has always had a noise problem, but the noise levels spiked and became frequent with absence of the on-site management.
Paperwork, including leases were often misplaced or disappeared altogether, and often times tenants were, and are still, asked to back-date paperwork, due to the misplacement or loss of original paperwork.
Beginning on May 18, 2011, our nightmares were fully realized at Library Gardens when we began to experience a series of major flooding within our apartment in a bedroom and under the kitchen sink due to pipe failures overhead. When the pipe broke in the bedroom, many of the belongings in that room were ruined, and it took the staff almost four weeks to repair the pipe, replace carpeting and replace the mold-damaged drywall.
During the time of the repairs, our family was forced to live in the other bedroom in the apartment because Library Gardens did not offer to move us to another apartment or put us up in a hotel or motel as required by law. To add insult to injury, we were never reimbursed for our damaged items, with the exception of an armoire despite repeated letters, faxes, and phone calls with requests to do so.
During a phone conversation, Karyn Grindstaff, the head of the property management team at the time, implied that we were the cause of the repairs taking so long. She stated that she’d gotten a report from Oscar Roman, the maintenance supervisor, that we’d refused to let him enter the home to do the repairs. I was dumbfounded by the implication, and explained to her how and why Mr. Roman’s statement was untrue. This is not the last time that Mr. Roman would misrepresent the truth to skirt responsibility from himself and Library Gardens.
From Feb. 2015 onwards has been our worst year to date living in Library Gardens, not just because of the balcony collapse on June 16, 2015, but because we went on to experience four more major incidences of flooding within short periods of time, with one happening on Feb. 27 and one on Aug. 15, in the room where the pipe had previously burst, one on Aug. 18, and one on Dec. 8, under the kitchen sink.
While speaking to other current and former tenants, I’d discovered that apartment flooding due to pipe failures and improper water sealing are not uncommon in Library Gardens. So it came as no surprise to us who live or have lived in Library Gardens when it was reported that a balcony collapsed due to dry rot.
The shoddy workmanship and shoddy construction are evident. There are multiple cracks in walkways, walls, steps, light fixtures and ceilings throughout the complex, making the building appear dilapidated, even though it is only eight years’ old. There’s a camera literally hanging out of the ceiling in the northwest stairwell leading to Kittredge Street, and many of the seams in the concrete are crooked even to the naked eye.
The materials used in many of the fixtures such as the knobs to the bathroom and kitchen cabinets are cheap and tend to fall off, the cabinets themselves tend to hang awkwardly from their hinges, while the countertops tend to lose their trimming early.
I’ve never experienced living in conditions such as those in Library Gardens before, but once I’d observed and experienced these incidences in short succession, I became fearful about the sustainability of the complex during an earthquake, or even El Niño.
Living in a situation like this has caused our family to think differently about how to go about looking for an apartment. For instance, now, instead of just talking to current and previous residents and checking reviews, we’re looking into who owns and runs the apartment, who built the apartment, if they had structural deficiencies, and if they’ve been sued or fined for the structural deficiencies or for loss of life.
Since doing research regarding Library Gardens, we’ve learned that Segue Construction, the construction company that built Library Gardens, has received at least 12 OSHA violations over a 10-year period and has been involved in at least three lawsuits involving incidences of improper waterproofing and other structural failings.
You’re probably asking yourself, why not just move? The short answer to that question is “the housing crisis”. Finding housing in the Bay Area is no easy task and there are no “just do it” answers to finding a new home during the housing crisis. The reality is that many are being pushed from their homes and some are pushed into homelessness due to rising rents.
According to Library Gardens’ own website, the rents are between $2,150 to $4,000 for 1- to 2-bedroom units that are 614 to 797 square feet of space. And you’re paying for what project living at luxury prices? The advent of companies like Airbnb has added to the housing crisis because landlords are removing long-term rentals from the market in favor of short-term or vacation rentals that could extract more money for their units or rooms. Further, the growth of the tech industry has attracted more tech workers to the Bay Area, which adds to the housing demand, thus driving up rent prices even further. This situation has made affordable housing next to impossible to find, so once one does find affordable housing, you are reluctant to move, even if the conditions are not the best.
Since living here, I’ve learned many life lessons. I’ve learned that you have to be your own advocate by seeking the help of agencies such as the Berkeley Rent Board and Housing Code Enforcement Office, put complaints, concerns, and repair requests in writing (and get a signature if possible), follow up on repair requests, keep and file all correspondence between yourself and your landlords, document everything that goes wrong within the apartment with notes and pictures, learn about your tenants’ rights and, most importantly, don’t be fooled by fake smiles and empty promises.
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