Seniors, Disabled at Risk in Downtown High-Rise with Faulty Elevator

Landlord says elevators are being renovated, with extra staff on hand to help inconvenienced tenants

Kay Lippincott got a real scare when the elevator at her downtown high-rise shook and felt like it was dropping.

"It went like this," she explained, moving her hands back and forth and up and down. "And you know, this was just not normal."

Elderly and disabled tenants at the Luther Tower apartments downtown agree, there's nothing "normal" about the single elevator that services their 14-story building.

They said it hasn't worked properly for months and sometimes stops working, altogether.

"A lady had to sleep in the (first floor) library because she was in a wheelchair and could not get back to her apartment," Lippincott said.

NBC 7 Investigates found nearly half of all the elevators across California, including here in San Diego County, have expired safety permits.

A spokesperson for the Department of Industrial Relations said property owners are responsible for maintaining elevators and ensuring they are safe for public use. 

According to data from the Department of Industrial Relations, Luther Towers' safety permit had expired in February but Wende King, president of Royal Property Management which oversees Luther Towers, told us the permit is already in the process of being renewed.

Luther Towers has another elevator, but it has been out-of-service for two months, for renovation. 

King said the two elevators are more than 50 years old and must be rebuilt, one elevator at a time.

Problems with the remaining elevator forced one tenant to walk down nine flights of stairs to get to her doctor's appointment.

When she got back, that tenant said the elevator still wasn't working, so she had to walk up nine flights of stairs, stopping every three floors to rest, to get back to her apartment.

Ron Dismuke climbed 14 flights to his top-floor apartment when the elevator broke. He said there were "lines of people" in the stairwell with him, "just stacked up on the stairs here."

Dismuke said his wife missed a doctor's appointment when the elevator broke. Dismuke said building management offered to have maintenance workers carry her down the stairs, but she refused, feeling it was just too dangerous.

King disagreed with the tenants' description of the problem and said she has elevator repair experts on call "24/7" to quickly repair any break-downs.

King said there is always extra staff on hand to help with any problems. She said staffers will bring food to any tenants stuck in their apartments when the elevators are broken and will carry them down the stairwells if they have to get out of the building.

King also said her company will pay for a hotel room and meals if an elevator malfunction requires extra assistance.

NBC 7 Investigates created a tool for searching expired elevator safety permits by address. To see if your home or office is listed, click here.

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