Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Ala Wai apartments
have tenants living in chaos

A home is supposed to be a refuge, a place where one can relax and unwind and escape the ugliness of the outside world.

At 2153 Ala Wai, a small three-story, eight-unit apartment complex on the fringe of Waikiki, the ugliness of the outside world no longer is outside.

It has pierced the tenants' personal space in an in-your-face kind of way.

The soothing marketing images of beautiful Waikiki sunsets and gentle surf are a far cry from the reality of living on this tiny piece of real estate in Oahu's famed tourism district. The rough edges of urban living are surfacing more frequently at this walk-up apartment building on the busy corner of Ala Wai Boulevard and Kaiolu Street.

Consider these facts, as related by several tenants:

>> Police have been called dozens of times to the complex over the past year-and-a-half to deal with complaints ranging from loud music to prostitution.

>> One tenant has had his old car broken into six times during the past year, often enough that he no longer bothers to fix the door locks.

>> On at least 12 separate occasions, that same tenant has gone to his unlocked vehicle in the morning only to find used condoms littering the floor. The condoms weren't his.

>> Last year a man stood on an upstairs lanai and yelled at passersby. The man wasn't wearing a stitch of clothing.

>> Loud arguments and a steady stream of male visitors who show up one after another and stay for only brief periods are not uncommon on some nights.

>> Homeless people sometimes use the apartment grounds for their sleeping quarters or to relieve themselves.

>> Addicts in search of drugs have rung doorbells at all hours. One tenant temporarily disconnected his doorbell because he was getting disturbed so often.

"It's amazing to me what goes on here," said the tenant, who like others interviewed asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation. "You never know what you're going to find when you open your front door."

He keeps a baseball bat by the door, just in case.

Another tenant agreed that disturbances at the complex have increased over the past year or two.

"It's definitely getting worse," she said. "A lot worse."

Police say the apartment complex is not considered a Waikiki property that generates chronic complaints. But 2153 Ala Wai does have its share of problems. Police officers have been called to the building 15 times since the beginning of the year, mostly for noise and theft complaints.

"There's not much they can do," said a woman tenant. "By the time officers arrive, things quiet down. When they leave, it starts all over again."

Landlord Shyan-Fu Lee, whose company owns the apartment building, says he responds as quickly as he can to tenant complaints, even if that means checking out a problem late at night.

But unless he catches someone doing something wrong, there's not much he can do, said Lee, who doesn't live in the complex but is only minutes away. He said he's never found evidence of drug use or prostitution at the apartments and urges tenants to call police if they ever see illegal activity.

"If any of my tenants have been suffering or are uncomfortable, I'm not happy about that," Lee said. "I want my tenants to live in a safe place and to respect each other."

That tenants in an apartment complex complain about living conditions is not uncommon in Hawaii, though the magnitude of the complaints at 2153 Ala Wai seem unusual.

Disturbances of any kind tend to be magnified when people live in close quarters, as they do in hundreds of condominium and apartment projects in the islands. When the project is in a densely populated area of residential and commercial enterprises, problems can take on an urban edge.

Mary Lee Leach, who lives just down the street from 2153 Ala Wai and is a member of a community group called Waikiki Managers Against Crime, said living conditions in the neighborhood actually have improved in the two decades she's lived there, particularly in terms of crime and disturbances.

But problems remain and people don't want to get involved to resolve them, Leach said.

"The police cannot be blamed for this," Leach said.

If problems at 2153 Ala Wai are as bad as some tenants suggest, why don't they simply move elsewhere?

After all, the tenants are on month-to-month leases and are not bound to remain because of long-term rental agreements.

"They are free to go if they want," said Lee, the landlord.

But several tenants said they can't afford to move and are not sure they could find an apartment in an equally convenient location for $750 a month (for a one-bedroom unit).

They also say there's a principle involved, one that has applications beyond just tenant problems.

"Why should I have to move?" asked one resident. "I'm the victim here."

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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