Santa Ana Motel Dispute : Court Orders Landlord to Turn On Utilities
A Superior Court commissioner Thursday ordered the owner of a Santa Ana motel to restore utility service at the deteriorating complex, which has become a haven for the “motel homeless"--low-income families with no place else to go.
Commissioner Greer H. Stroud issued a temporary order requiring Yung Whan Kim to reconnect water, gas and electricity at the Wishing Well Motel, where services were cut off Wednesday night. The complex was cited Feb. 1 by the City of Santa Ana for overcrowded conditions, sanitation violations and the presence of insects and rodents, after which a number of residents stopped paying rent.
Kim said he was owed more than $50,000 in back rent and could not afford to make the necessary improvements or to pay his utility bills. The owner said he purchased the complex in 1981 for $1.34 million, making the down payment with a second mortgage on his own home, and that he agreed to sell the property last month for $1.17 million to Community Psychiatric Centers of Santa Ana. Kim said the medical facility, which owns the land adjoining the Wishing Well, intends to demolish the motel and turn the property into a parking lot.
Residents of the motel received a notice from Kim’s attorney at the end of April informing them of the sale of the property and giving them 30 days to vacate. Such notice is required before eviction proceedings can begin.
But many of the people living at the Wishing Well were on welfare or some form of disability, or were living so close to the poverty line that finding another place to live was extremely difficult.
When Kim asked the gas and electric companies to discontinue service and turned off the water himself, the Gerald Martin family and others of the approximately 40 remaining residents contacted Legal Aid Society of Orange County, which filed for the temporary restraining order and also filed a complaint for damages.
Gerald and Karen Martin, parents of three children, lived at the Wishing Well for 3 1/2 years and, according to a sworn statement submitted by Karen Martin, had “never been behind in our rent,” making their latest payment the day the 30-day notice to vacate arrived.
Moving Funds Scarce
Like many of the working poor in Orange County who live in motels on what amounts to a permanent basis, the Martins did not have enough money to move into rental housing.
For first and last month’s rent, security and utilities deposits, Gerald Martin said, “you need $1,100 to $1,200 to move in.”
Residents said that in order to qualify for the City of Santa Ana’s Tenant Assistance Program, which provides a loan of up to $1,500 for displaced people, it was necessary to have proof of a new residence. Landlords willing to rent to former Wishing Well residents frequently call the complex for references, which they say Kim refuses to provide.
“Most of us here can’t find a place,” said Leo Sarinana. “They say you have too many kids. Because you’re on welfare, because your family’s too big.”
Relations between Kim and the tenants have deteriorated since February. The situation boiled over Wednesday night when the utilities were cut off.
“He’s harassing us because he blames us for losing the building,” Carol Lottier said. “He knows he has some angry tenants, so he makes himself scarce.”
Chris Williams, the father of several young children, said he got into a scuffle with the manager, Nam K. Bong, when Williams tried to turn the water back on. The fight ended when Sarinana separated them. Williams said he intended to move his family up the street to the Ha’Penny Inn, where the rent is $195 a week.
“What can I do?” he asked. “The kids have to wash.”
“We’re sending the kids to the gas station for water,” said Richard Lottier.
“I tried to fix the place up and remodel,” said Kim. “I didn’t have enough money.”
Kim showed late notices from Southern California Gas Co. for $5,160.14, dated May 16, and Southern California Edison Co. for $1,416.79, from April.
‘No Rent Money’
“I couldn’t pay my electricity bill and gas bill,” Kim said. “I couldn’t pay it because there was no rent money.”
However, Commissioner Stroud determined that the electricity and gas had not been shut off by the companies for lack of payment and ordered that Kim make arrangements to have the service restored until a hearing could be held June 18.
“I shut the water off myself,” Kim said. “People keep staying. I can’t afford it. If I didn’t turn off the utilities, people would stay forever. I can’t afford it.”
Escrow on the sale of the property has been extended by 30 days but is due to run out next week, he said.