‘Fit for Human Habitation’ is Too Low a Habitability Standard

Beverly Hills needs a local habitability standard! Today the city defaults to the state law’s requirement: residential must be fit for human habitation. That is a low bar and most landlords meet it. But some problem landlords fail to maintain their property and then pocket the savings as profit. Case in point: 421 South Maple Drive in Beverly Hills. From the outside it is appealing to an apartment shopper. But  poor conditions inside were a reminder that we hold very low expectations for the state of rental housing in Beverly Hills — and some landlords even fail to meet them.

My partner saw 421 South Maple listed online at $2,495 for a 1-bedroom apartment in a charming fourplex south of Olympic Boulevard. “Hardwood all throughout,” the listing said. “Wall AC units being installed,” the listing promised. There was a washer-dryer and “all the appliances you need.” The listing and photos suggested a cozy home.

We toured the apartment and we found dirt, grime, aged and corroded fixtures, water damage, cracked bathroom tiling and even visible mold in the shower. There were under-cabinet gaps that could allow insects and vermin to infest. The apartment suggested the kind of landlord neglect that begs for a local habitability standard and a rental housing inspection program. Coincidentally that’s what our Rent Stabilization Commission is considering right now.

Behold exhibit A: premises that suggest this longtime landlord, Dr. Edwin Gromis, MD, has squeezed-out every last rent dollar at the expense of maintenance and tenant comfort. And this was the condition of the property as it was offered for rent!

421 South Maple, Beverly Hills — Proudly offered at $2,495

421 S Maple water damage
The first thing we noticed was visible water damage around the baseboards that suggest a whole lot more water penetration of the drywall — and maybe mold too.
421 S Maple drywall and outlet
The next thing we noticed was a conspicuous crack in the drywall and an electric outlet installed upside down. The crack is probably due to forcing the outlet box into the wall but then I’m no electrician! But I know sloppy work when I see it.
421 S Maple kitchen
The kitchen it was serviceable but charmless. Like the rest of the apartment the walls were chalk-white. Period amenities were long stripped-away. This is luxury compared to the bathroom.
421 S Maple kitchen under-counter
Under the sink there are wide gaps in the cabinetry where it meets the walls and adjacent cabinets. That’s an opportunity for vermin to enter. Clearly no attention was paid to pest-proofing…a very common condition in aging Beverly Hills rental stock.
421 S Maple bathroom
The bathroom sets the mood: zero investment in maintenance in like forever. Imagine showing an apartment in this condition!
421 S Maple bathroom vanity bottom
Old caulk, caked paint, ill-fitting fixtures and that missing tile baseboard molding show this landlord has zero pride-of-place. Again, imagine showing an apartment in this condition…for $2495 no less!
421 S Maple bathtub
The bathroom was at best charmless but more often a horror. Witness the tub sans enamel; the old and discolored caulking; and the touch of rust around the drain. Let your eye wander to the bad calk along the floor. Water damage likely lurks behind!
421 S Maple shower
Things look worse in the shower where discoloration in the tile, discolored and failing grout and what appears to be mold in the caulking, all suggest bigger problems in the drywall.
421 S Maple shower
Another view of substandard conditions in the shower. The cracked tile betray a property starved of maintenance (to say nothing of improvement). The rent stabilization division saw these images. Is this not a call to arms for a code inspector?
421 S Maple shower ceiling
Visible mold on the shower ceiling along with water damage in the walls. That’s not the product of condensation: that is likely water damage from the bathroom in the upper unit. That is a story foretold just looking at the conditions in this bathroom — and the water damage and mold that lurks in the drywall. Paint drippings on the drywall is another indication that the landlord relies on low-rent handymen.

The property at 419–421 South Maple has been owned for decades by orthopedic surgeon Edwin Gromis, MD, according to the property title and city permit record. Gromis has an office at 1122 South Robertson in Los Angeles as indicated by his (state physician’s licensing board entry). Most recently it was held in an LLC named Pimlico Holdings which shows Dr. Gromis as a manager.

Seeing conditions which in my view did not meet the ‘fit for human habitation’ standard, I filed a complaint with the city’s rent stabilization division on July 17, 2020 (two days after the visit).

Unit 421 S Maple Dr (at 419 S Maple) is on the rental market. Among the amenities is water damage, mold, broken tiles, filth and in general conditions that should render this unit uninhabitable – much less on the market at all for $2495. Landlord is listed as GROMIS,EDWIN AND CECILE B TRS. Business license is #E0004160 GROMIS EQUITIES. — Complaint #54399

The city responded ten days after the complaint on July 27th with this cursory (and erroneous) statement. It suggests why tenants need a systematic rental housing inspection program!

We only investigate complaints from the occupant of the unit. I realize the unit is vacant. Once there is a tenant, if they have concerns, advise them to contact us. Thank you.

“If they have concerns”? Doesn’t the city have a concern that a rental unit is offered in this condition? I followed up with the department’s director by email on July 18th.

My understanding is that a complaint-driven enforcement system relies on complaints however they may come to the attention of the city. If we do indeed have to wait for a tenant to take this unit and then complain, then we will likely see the new tenant living with these conditions and NOT complain, as evidently the last tenant did not file a complaint…And if the RSO office (of all divisions) does not see the problem with a unit in this condition, on the market or off the market in our city, then I think we have to re-think the RSO mission altogether.

A few days later I heard back from Helen Morales, deputy director of the rent stabilization division.

Thank you for bringing this property to our attention. Today I called the owner’s representative and spoke to Suzana Mann. She informed me that the unit is under renovation which will include remediation of the mold and water damage. She stated that the owner is informing prospective tenants that the work will be completed before move in…We will continue to monitor the situation.

I’m sure there was zero ‘monitoring’ of this situation. In fact my latest review of the permit record shows no permits pulled for 421 South Maple at all since my complaint. I would expect permits to replace tile and drywall and perhaps a mold remediation permit for the shower, judging by the conditions we witnessed.

This property is but one example of the complaints that I receive from tenants on a regular basis. The images are more or less similar to what we see here. I don’t ever post tenants’ images permission. But here Dr. Gromis has opened his home and offered us an opportunity to see what the state’s very low standard for ‘tenantable’ premises can beget in practice.

Beverly Hills tenants deserve better. That’s why we support a local habitability standard and a rental housing inspection program!