The Bunker Hill pool wars are over

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Peace has been restored to three residential towers on Bunker Hill in Downtown Los Angeles—at least when it comes to the mammoth, star-shaped pool that’s been largely sitting empty the last three and a half years. The 10-foot steel fence that had been erected to keep out renters (including me) was dismantled on April 1 of this year, as soon as an agreement was struck in the lingering dispute. Residents were so surprised when they heard the wall was coming down that they thought it was an April Fools prank.

The complex is made up of three buildings—the two 19-story towers of the Bunker Hill Apartments and a 32-story tower, built at the same time, that went condo in 1980. In 2013, the condo locked apartment dwellers out of the pool after landlord Essex refused to pay for a portion of work on the “resort-style” recreation area.

At issue was whether the decking and piping work contracted by condo management was technically “maintenance” or an “upgrade.” (An agreement that dates back to 1980 stipulates that Essex must pay two-thirds of maintenance. Essex balked at the $411,782 figure, which included new tiling and premium concrete decking.)

After various attempts at mediation failed, the case was headed for trial, a move that attorneys representing the condo association ultimately decided was too risky. Essex claimed $2 million in legal fees and damages, which included rent reductions it was forced to give after a quarter of tenants in its rent-stabilized units appealed to the city.

Moments after an email was sent to residents of the apartments explaining that access to the pool was about to be restored, notices were sent out to longtime tenants restoring their higher rents. (Essex maintains it’s still building its own pool, anyway, in the parking lot outside the Third Street Tunnel.)

As a deal seemed near, a condo boardmember and key figure in leading the charge against Essex suddenly sold his unit. Now a new board is said to be investigating a suit against the old board. As part of reunification, condo owners reportedly agreed to pay Essex $350,000.

Meanwhile, Essex has moved along with a planned $76 million upgrade of the rental buildings, including installation of balconies on the corner units—the better for renters to gaze now not just at the pool, but also at the giant hole in the ground for the Regional Connector rail project across the street.

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