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Something To Write Home About

Something To Write Home About

Los Angeles Times Westside: January 30, 1998
By Monte Morin

Landlord makes tenants write essays to move in!

Some say he’s the Michael Ovitz of apartment rentals, a landlord with the power to deliver your wildest, hardwood housing fantasies, or dash them on a whim. Others describe him as the Jerry Garcia of lease-dom, an art deco fanatic whose loving apartment restorations have won him the fierce loyalty of scores of groupie tenants. Still more say he’s the mad, flamboyant apartment owner who does everything the opposite of how it’s usually done—the Westside’s own anti-landlord.

Dave Goldstein agrees with them all. “When you see one of my apartments you are going to beg me, just beg me to get in, said the 45-year-old Malibu resident. “You’re going to have to go through hell before you get a place, though. They all do.” Apartment hunters arrive at Goldstein’s buildings in convoys of BMWs, Mercedes and Range Rovers, then queue up 30-deep at times to drool over such painstakingly restored fixtures as vanity coves, Murphy beds, leaded glass windows, chestnut wainscoting, coffered ceilings and precision-tiled kitchens. Goldstein said East Coast expatriates fall particularly hard for his English Tudors, Italian villas and art deco renovations—some which rent for as much as $3,500 a month.

“When I first saw this apartment I said, ‘Oh my God, this place is so nice. I need a drink!” said tenant Marlene Stevens, 36. The New York native and her husband live above Sunset Plaza in an apartment once inhabited by Ronald Reagan and his first wife, Jane Wyman. Though prospective tenants sometimes arrive with gifts, spotless credit and swollen paycheck stubs, the landlord won’t even consider them as tenants until they humble themselves in yet another way. Goldstein demands that each of his apartment applicants prove their worthiness by writing personal essays. If they refuse, they lose. “Everybody has to write me an essay,” said Goldstein, who owns dozens of apartment buildings in Beachwood Canyon, Hancock Park, Sunset Plaza and West Hollywood. “I don’t tell them what to write, I just tell them to write something. Sometimes I get people – real successful types who make an awful lot of money, who tell me they don’t have time for that. Guess what, I tell them they can’t have the place. Drives them crazy.” Though some have protested and threatened to sue him for discrimination, Goldstein said they’ve never followed through. State housing discrimination officials said the practice is unusual, but not discriminatory.

“It’s eccentric, but it doesn’t seem to violate any particular housing laws,” said Beth Rosen-Prinz, regional director of the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing. “It might make a difference for people who do not have a good grasp on the language. It could just be chilling for them.” Neither Goldstein nor his successful essay-writing tenants are losing sleep, though. “As far as I’m concerned, anything in L.A. that is biased toward writers is great,” said M.G. Lord, a Goldstein tenant and author. “This belies all the negative East Coast notions of L.A.” Not surprisingly, Goldstein rents to many writers, producers and directors. Some of these tenants have suggested basing a situation comedy on him. (Goldstein said he’s talking with Disney and Sony about the idea.)

There are other requirements of prospective tenants as well. Often Goldstein demands they write him a list of 50 problems that need fixing in the apartment. In some cases, he’s berated potential renters because they did not point out enough problems. “I really like to fix up the buildings and I never stop,” Goldstein said. “Most landlords don’t like to spend money on their properties. I can’t stop.” It’s an obsession that tenants like Frank Strausser, a 37-year-old magazine publisher, say they appreciate. “Dave’s different from other landlords who maintain and not create,” he said. “Dave wants to make this a showcase.”

Some of Goldstein’s tenants have vowed to live only in one of his buildings—they have remained on waiting lists for years. “I’ve got a guy who works on “The Tonight Show, he’s been on a waiting list for two years,” Goldstein said. “I can’t believe it. Can you? Can you believe I’ve got people who just won’t leave me alone? They won’t rent from anybody else. It’s weird.”

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