Tahoe Pines Lodge issues bubble to surface

Tahoe Pines Lodge has been a pain in the neck for South Lake Tahoe police and a resident has complained about code violations.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — For better or for worse, the Tahoe Pines Lodge is well-known in South Lake Tahoe. 

Under the city’s single-room occupancy ordinance, the motel operates as a long-term living facility.

The SRO program exempts qualified buildings from the transient occupancy tax but property owners and managers must retrofit their properties for living such as adding kitchenettes or common kitchens, working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, etc. 

The SRO page on the City’s website acknowledges some issues with the program, stating, “although this has fulfilled some of the demand for affordable housing, the conditions in these converted motel rooms are often poor.”

One Tahoe Pines Lodge resident said he’s fed up with the substandard living conditions he’s experienced while living at the lodge. 

David Lester moved in September 2019. During the initial walk-through with owner Darren Cobrae, Lester said he saw several issues that needed to be addressed, including missing smoke detectors, a cracked window, water leaks and many other issues. There is a document signed by Cobrae and Lester acknowledging the issues. 

When asked why he still moved in after noticing the issues, Lester said he took Cobrae’s word that the issues would be fixed. 

Both Cobrae and Tahoe Pines Lodge Manager Stephanie Cothern say they fixed the issues in the unit.

Lester on the other hand said not only were problems not fixed, but he discovered more issues, namely faulty wiring.

“I really didn’t know how bad it was until I moved in,” Lester said. 

Lester, who had paid his rent six months in advance, demanded his money back after he said the fire department told him the unit wasn’t livable. 

“We were willing to give him a portion of the money back but not all,” Cothern said, adding they would give him the money for the month’s he’d paid in advance but not the months when he’d already lived in the unit.

In a certified letter that was signed for, Lester asked for $5,400 for four months rent he wasn’t going to stay there and his security deposit returned. Lester said Cobrae offered his deposit back, plus $500 for a total of $1,900. He said he hasn’t yet seen any money.

Lester went to the city for help, hoping to get the building red tagged because of dangerous wires. He recently detailed complaints about his unit in a video.

Housing Inspector Harry Lamphere said he’s been working diligently with Corbrae to make sure the building is up to code and said the building is habitable. Development Services Director Kevin Fabino said the building does not fall under the legal definition of being an eminent hazard. 

Although, Fabino does admit issues with the building. 

“This particular property has a long history,” Fabino said, who has been working with them to get up to code for the last three years. “Admittedly, not all corrections have been made.”

Cothern said making these changes costs money and they are making as many as they possibly can but it’s an expensive task. 

“Our tenant safety is our number one concern,” Cothern said. 

In addition to getting the attention of the city, the Tahoe Pines Lodge is also well known with the South Lake Tahoe Police Department. 

According to Interim Police Chief Shannon Laney, since 2000, they’ve responded to 1,163 calls there, that’s nearly four calls a month. He adds that those numbers include all calls, including medical emergencies but the most frequent call is for disputes. 

“It’s been a pain in my ass for as long as I can remember,” Laney said. 

Lester also said crime was one of his concerns with the building. 

Cothern said they have often rented to the homeless. 

“Everybody deserves a home,” Cothern added. 

This doesn’t imply that the homeless were the cause of all the crime but Cothern does think Lester didn’t like that they did that. 

Laney said while they frequently respond to calls, the PD can’t help with the code enforcement side. 

“Unfortunately, that’s how code enforcement works, they ask a lot,” Laney said, meaning they give a lot of chances to fix the problems.

Fabino said they’ve issued many citations to Cobrae. 

“I feel bad for Mr. Lester, I understand the situation,” Fabino said. “The city is moving, just probably not as fast as Mr. Lester would like.” 

Fabino said Corbrae has welcomed another inspection and after that inspection, he will have another 30 days to correct the problems. However, Fabino also met with the city attorney and city manager and, “the city is prepared to use all the legal remedies at our disposal.” 

Lester is frustrated with the city for allowing this place to continue operating.

“This could set precedence in Lake Tahoe if the building department lets me continue living in an uninhabitable building,” Lester said. 

“This is why the council is so focused on affordable housing,” said the city’s communication manager Chris Fiore. 

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