Conversion to condos is painful for tenants

By Ruth Longoria

Life has been miserable for the past few months, claim some residents of the Deauville Apartments on 76th Avenue S.E. Residents of the 60-unit apartment complex -- which is being renamed The Carlton of Mercer Island -- received notification on Aug. 31 that the building had changed ownership and is being converted to condominiums. Residents were later given a 60-day opportunity to purchase their unit -- or 90 days to move out.

The Deauville Apartments sold for $11 million and the new owners, Mercer Island Condos, LLC, purchased with the intention of turning the 60 units into condominiums, said Warren Ballard, vice president of Williams Marketing, the listing agent for the property who said he is speaking for the owners on the conversion process.

The owners know of the complaints of some tenants concerning construction and inconveniences, Ballard said. ``It's never easy when a building is converted, but we've bent over backwards doing everything we could to help them (the tenants).'' State law required the new owners to give tenants first option to purchase their unit. A city ordinance also requires the owners to give a $500 moving allowance to tenants who qualify, he said.

The condos are being listed between $200,000 and just over $500,000. For tenants who've been paying between $1,200 and $1,400 a month for a two-bedroom unit, that would mean coming up with about $354,000 to purchase their unit as-is, or $365,000 after renovation.

It's been a hardship for some of the residents, many of whom are elderly. There was the challenge of finding a new home, a way to move, and money for the move, including deposits and first and last months rent. But, some say, what has been even more difficult is living through the conversion from apartment to condominium complex.

The condo conversion is expected to be completed by November, 2006, according to information provided to residents by Mercer Island Condos, LLC.

During their few last months at the complex, residents have endured paint, sealant and other kinds of fumes, workers coming in and out of their apartments with no warning, doors and exits blocked by workers and equipment, as well as having their unit views, windows and patios enveloped in plastic as the outside structural changes are made.

``It's been a nightmare,'' said Sue Burns, 77. Burns moved to the Deauville complex six years ago. ``I moved here thinking this was where I'd live `til I died. Now, this place is such a mess, it's really been unlivable.''

Ninety-one-year-old resident Emily Woodson agrees the conditions are miserable. ``I wouldn't say I can't live here, but it is affecting my health,'' she said. ``The stress has been horrible.''

Woodson tells of walking out of her kitchen one day to see workers moving about in her unit, ``as if they owned the place.'' And, though she admits she is but a renter of the unit, ``I'd really appreciate it if they'd at least knock first.

Woodson has lived on the Island since 1954, when she bought a home on First Hill. She sold her home and moved to the Deauville in 1999. ``I wanted to stay on Mercer Island and this seemed like a nice place to live,'' she said. ``I have a patio with space for my barbecue, and a north view of Mt. Baker. I've enjoyed living here.''

Woodson recently made arrangements to move into Island House retirement complex. But, she's concerned that her son, who currently lives with her, hasn't found a place yet. After a lot of looking, Burns found herself a new apartment last week. ``It wasn't easy to find anything on the Island. I need someplace with an elevator,'' she said.

The expected expense of moving is a hardship for 55-year-old Deauville resident William Kruedener, who has lived at the complex for 14 years. ``This is very inconvenient,'' Kruedener said. ``I was off work for a while and recently started back to work again. Coming up with the cost of movers, deposits, first and last months rent -- well, it's all expensive.''

Former Ana's Family Style Mexican Restaurant owner Anna Sotelo -- whose restaurant closed earlier this year after the property she leased was sold to developers -- also is being displaced by the apartment conversion. For the past several years, Sotelo has lived at the Deauville with her 5-year-old son David. She said safety and security at the building was part of the reason she moved there. But, since the building changed ownership, outer doors have been left propped open and, in addition to workers coming and going, she's had unexpected and unwanted visitors. ``I've had people drop by and say they got my name and apartment number from the mailroom. This isn't what I'd call a secured complex anymore,'' she said.

She also takes issue with workers using electricity from the deck outlets, which is paid for by the apartment leasees. And, she's concerned for safety with rotted wood being removed from decks and holes left for undetermined amounts of time.

She, and others at the complex, have complained several times to the owners and to the Fire Marshal, about what she considers to be a dangerous disregard for safety.

Sotelo said she's not angered by the decision to convert to condos, or the sale of the building. ``Everyone has a right to sell their building, we're renters we don't own the place, it's just the way this was done that bothers me,'' she said. ``There's a right way and a wrong way to do things, and this is being done the wrong way.''

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