I see vacant houses and homeless everday. Our ethics and our economy are to blame. How do realtors rationalize this?
By Besha Rodell
By Patrick Range McDonald
By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
If only he'd taken a bath. Barefoot and miserable, the defendant, William Nowell, watched the jurors laughing and chatting as they filed out of the courtroom. Like they were at a cocktail party, he thought. Never mind that his life had just come apart. He started to cry. The verdict was in. He'd been evicted for smelling bad.
Nowell does smell. Even he admits it. But precisely how bad is a matter of debate. In August, it became a matter of legal debate, when the owners of the luxury loft building Nowell lived in took him to court in an effort to kick him out of the very apartment they'd let him into.
Nowell had been living on the streets for the past two decades, and he looks it. He owns one outfit, which he wears every single day: too-big, ragged black sweatpants wadded up into a ball at the waist, and black hoodie sweatshirt. No socks. No shoes. Fierce blue eyes peek out from beneath a large, scruffy dreadlock of hair, which clings to the back of his head like some crazy animal.
Last year, he received what every down-on-his-luck homeless person dreams of: a sudden windfall, a settlement in the amount of $200,000 to do with as he pleased. He would begin anew, he decided: find a home, clean up.
"I always envisioned the place I wanted," he says.
The building at 650 Spring St. fit the bill. It's one of eight buildings downtown owned by SB Properties, the largest loft builder in the area. A byzantine old former Bank of America, with original Art Deco tiles, echoing main hall and steel safe-deposit boxes in the vault downstairs, it's a place straight out of the movies — indeed, the music video for Usher's "DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love Again" and scenes from Mad Men were filmed here.
Aesthetics aside, at other buildings, people were rude. "As you can imagine," Nowell says, pointing to himself. "I know I smell bad. I'm sick. I have serious kidney problems."
SB Properties leasing agent Cassandra Smith, however, "was very nice," he says. "She never gave any indication about my appearance or the way I smell. And I was worse than I am now." He met with her "just like this. No shoes." Nowell explained that he didn't have credit but could pay a whole year in advance. "I really wanted to get in there."
They accepted him with six months' rent in advance and a double deposit — a total of $12,000 up front. He signed a one-year lease, at $1,495 a month, for unit 408.
At 800 square feet, with cement floors, exposed-brick walls and industrial piping overhead, the one-bedroom unit is not terribly luxe. But it had 11-foot-high ceilings and lots of sunlight pouring in through three big, street-facing windows. He moved in on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
Nowell has an impressive memory and a genteel way of speaking that is at odds with his derelict appearance. Like a prince disguised as a pauper, he notes who is nice (the evening doorman, and Cassandra Smith "at first") and who is not (pretty much everyone else). "When I met the building manager, she gave me this look," he recalls. "I can sense when somebody doesn't approve."
"Nice to meet you," he recalls having said to her. "But she just looked at me. I knew what was going through her head. How did I get into this building? How did I get approved? What was Cassandra thinking?"
He spent the rest of the day in a taxi, schlepping 125 plastic grocery bags of stuff — the sum total of his worldly possessions — from the motel room he'd been renting in MacArthur Park to his new home. Nowell owned art magazines, books and old newspapers but had neither furniture nor linens. "I wanted to hold off on all that until I finally got my own place," he explains. "It was a big thing for me."
When exactly did things start to go wrong? It could perhaps be traced back to a kind deed gone awry.
Sometime during the day, Nowell got a call from Smith, the leasing agent. She'd purchased toiletries for him. Could she have permission to put them in his apartment?
"It insulted me," he says now. "I wanted to move in quietly and get some much-needed rest. I didn't want to be treated like I've been treated all these years. People wanting to ... whatever ..."
"Why don't you just leave it at the front desk?" he asked her.
"No," he recalls her saying. "Why don't I just lay it out in your bathroom." When he returned to the apartment, he found soap, shampoo, deodorant, a shower curtain, socks, shoes, towels, a change of clothes and a collection of tiny, travel-sized hotel soaps in a pink Victoria's Secret bag waiting for him.
"My first home in two decades, and I felt like it had been contaminated," he says. "It's stuff I wouldn't use. All that chemical stuff."
Nowell eats only organic food and washes — when he washes — with artisanal, handmade soap from Soaptopia. "I'm not going to wear clothes somebody else bought for me. I wouldn't let them bury me in that stuff! It was meant to be a hint. She knew I had money."
According to Nowell, Smith commented that he had more money in his bank account than 90 percent of the people in the building.
Nowell has many reasons for why he didn't clean up. He had no linens. No electricity. He didn't want to be naked in the apartment. "It's a big place. I wasn't going to take a bath in the dark with no towels."
Those days are clearly etched in his mind, as if in parsing the details he can make them work out differently. He relates his otherwise ordinary attempt to wash his filthy pants as if it were an epic, and in a way it is. In his telling, the in-unit washing machine is a trickster object filled with portent. It didn't work, then it did, then it didn't. He soaked his pants in the tub, "so they'd be clean before I put them in the washer."
The smell persisted.
Nowell didn't always smell. He used to have a normal life. Born in New York, he moved to Los Angeles at 35. He wanted to act. Like every other aspiring actor, he waited tables and tended bar. He attended the Stella Adler acting school for a bit. He had credit cards, owned a car and rented an apartment near the Capitol Records tower on Vine. But, as he says, "Things happen."
Diagnosed with a chronic illness that he declines to name, he wound up on the streets, where he remained for the next 20 years. He begged and borrowed. He sold T-shirts slamming George W. Bush, printed with a photo of flag-draped coffins and the sentence, "My kid went to Iraq and all I got was this lousy letter." Somewhere in there, Nowell stopped bathing. He stopped wearing shoes. He stopped changing his clothes altogether.
When the money came, life's possibilities appeared to open up once more.
He received the first official notice to comply or vacate the unit eight days after he'd moved in. The next-door neighbor, he was told, was complaining about a foul odor. "I don't know what it could be," Nowell told the leasing agent. "Musty odor? Old books?"
He squirted his Dr. Bronner's peppermint shampoo over the books and across the gap beneath the front door and figured that would be the end of it.
It wasn't, not by a long shot. He spent the rest of the day happily shopping, buying stuff for his new life. He bought a computer. "The best one," he says, a MacBook Pro. He also bought a printer, a Canon 5D camera, as well as graphics software — Photoshop, Final Cut Pro — with which he dreamed of launching a design career. The cab driver brought him to Fry's and helped him pick everything out. As thanks, Nowell bought him a router. "Just put it in the basket," Nowell told him. With people he likes, Nowell is unfailingly generous with his money. The cab guy is now Nowell's on-call driver — as long as the money holds out.
At Bed, Bath & Beyond, the manager escorted him around the store with a cart, helping him select pillows, blankets and sheets. For cookware, the cabbie suggested Macy's. "But no dishes," Nowell said. "I'm not going to have dinner parties with guests over."
He never hung out with other guys on the street. He has no friends, not from that world or the one he was in before it.
An envelope taped to the door was waiting for Nowell at home, marked "Urgent." He ignored it, climbed into the tub and, for the first time in years, took "a nice, hot bath" for the next six hours.
The following morning he opened the notice, which stated that he had failed to maintain the unit in a sanitary condition. "I flipped out," he says, then corrects himself. "I didn't flip out flip out. I was angry. I was upset."
On the phone, the building's property manager, Ashley Corbin, brought up yet another complaint: "We've been informed that you're not wearing shoes in the general areas of the building."
"Well, there's nothing about shoes in the lease or building rules," Nowell said.
Doesn't matter, Corbin replied.
"It does matter. Because I don't think it's legal."
"Well ... bottom line, you have to wear shoes."
They soon served him a notice about the shoes: Wear them, or face penalties.
"This may not be the time to bring this up," Nowell told leasing agent Smith, "but I'd like to make a complaint against one of my neighbors." The tenant down the hall played his stereo too loud. Smith said she'd be giving that guy a three-day notice, too. "Are you going to wear shoes?" she pressed. "I need an answer. I can refund your money, and you can go elsewhere."
Nowell, however, never wears shoes. He's gone barefoot at the Museum of Contemporary Art and at Amoeba Music. If managers complain, he asks to sign a liability waiver.
"Give me a chance to get settled," he said.
"You've been here a week."
"Give me a date."
They settled on 5 p.m. Thursday. Three days. By that time, they agreed, he'd be wearing shoes. But Nowell knew in his heart he wasn't going to do it. Instead, he started calling attorneys.
"I so wanted this place," Nowell says now. "I can't tell you how much I needed a place away from the commotion of living on the streets." The rooftop swimming pool; the sundeck; the European-style, frameless, lacquered cabinets and marble sinks were nice, but the main thing he coveted was space. A place where he could stretch out. Somewhere light and quiet. "A sanctuary," he says, wistfully. "A place where I could get back on my feet. Take care of myself. I had a lot set on it. Look at me now. I'm 57 and I've got nothing to show for it." Long pause. "It was brazen on my part to go into a place like that and apply for an apartment. But I've got this money, and someone is going to take that into account."
Someone did. "You get a great impression talking to him," admits SB Properties general manager Yaniv Abiner, the person who ultimately approved Nowell's application. Moved by Nowell's story about wanting to get back on his feet, Abiner let him in. "He is a very articulate, smart man. He wasn't noisy. He made no outrageous demands," Abiner says. "It was just the smell."
By February, odor complaints were pouring in. Five or six of Nowell's neighbors filed "dozens of complaints" about the smell, Abiner says. By March, Nowell was engaged in an all-out war with his next-door neighbor. By April, the gloves were off and everyone had lawyered up.
But much as building management saw Nowell as a nuisance, they were also a nuisance to him. He twice allowed them inside to inspect, but refused further requests when they kept coming. He felt harassed.
In May, the police arrived to investigate a report of a dead-body smell wafting from Nowell's apartment. Management, Nowell alleges, ordered the security guard to phone the cops, even though the guard had seen Nowell enter the building, perfectly alive.
Two days later, the cops showed up again. Again the dead-body smell. They discovered no decomposing corpses. Was he able to take care of himself, they asked?
In short order, Social Services came knocking. A social worker wanted to evaluate him. "Now, I'm a private person in my own home," he told them, visibly upset, and who wouldn't be at that point?
Social Services saw what it needed to see.
Two days after that, the paramedics arrived with a stretcher, intending to put Nowell on a 72-hour psychiatric hold. "Management is aware you have health problems," they said. They called him "William" as if he were a kid. He got mad. They left. But 20 minutes later, Nowell was hearing sirens. He peeked out the window and saw people staring at the building. Then, the sound of heavy footsteps. Ten cops burst into his apartment with their guns drawn and pointed at him. One cop had his Taser out. Nowell saw the light on it blinking. The cop at the doorway had a shotgun, cocked and ready to fire.
"Will you speak with my attorney?" Nowell asked, clutching the cellphone with one hand, his falling-down pants with the other. The cop grabbed the phone and chucked it to the ground.
The hand holding up the pants was already being cuffed as one cop stood on Nowell's foot. They took him to Central Division, trundled him into an ambulance and then to the hospital. "Look me in the eye," Nowell said to the doctor at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. "Tell me if you think I'm crazy."
The management company claims you stand in the hallway and stare at the wall for hours, the doctor said. Is that true? Do you harass the other tenants? Do you feel like there is a conspiracy against you?
"There is a conspiracy against him," Nowell's attorney, Leonard Friedman, told the doctor by phone. The hospital released Nowell that same night.
William Nowell lived at 650 Spring St. for eight months, but he never got a chance to feel at home. He never unpacked the 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets, the printer, the kitchenware, the camera or the blender.
Management tried, Abiner insists. "The last thing we wanted to do was sue the tenant." It offered to refund Nowell's money. It suggested he hire a cleaning service, or open the windows, or line the air conditioner. Nowell wouldn't budge.
It shouldn't have been a difficult problem to solve, Abiner says. In the six years he's been a property manager, having dealt with 1,300 units and some 2,000 tenants, Abiner has never encountered a situation that stunk quite this bad. The worst was a lady with a malodorous cat litter box, which she resolved immediately.
Nowell, however, refused to clean up.
"He saw what I looked like when I first applied. He smelled what I smell like," Nowell says of Abiner. Yet to the issue of Nowell having been approved "as is," Abiner offers an analogy: An applicant looks at a unit with her two dogs in tow. She signs a lease. The dogs then defecate on the balcony, creating a nuisance: "Just because they came in with the dogs doesn't mean we have to accept that."
Most tenants fix problems within 24 to 48 hours, Abiner notes. "Sometimes people don't realize they're affecting their neighbor. And once they do, they don't want to." He sighs. "I'm sorry, but it's very selfish to say, 'Even though I understand this is affecting them, tough luck.' I can't clear out three or four units around William just to satisfy his point of, 'Well, I was like this when I was accepted.' "
Management could have used that first notice to take Nowell to court, Abiner points out, but it didn't. It waited months before proceeding to eviction. It sent him letters, made phone calls, served notice after notice after notice in an escalating attempt to impress upon him their seriousness and "to sharpen our point."
"You can't say that your rights trump other people's rights to quiet enjoyment," Abiner concludes.
"Quiet enjoyment" is a phrase he references often. Yet no one seems to see the flip side, which is that Nowell wanted peace and anonymity. Instead, having been nearly noticed to death, he is "a nervous wreck."
Unfortunately for Nowell, smell is not one of the seven categories protected by the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status or disability. Nowell does not fall into any of them. He is, however, in poor health. The medical condition he declines to name prevents him from bathing regularly, he says. Nowell claims that past surgery has made full immersion in water difficult. Instead, he prefers to give himself sponge baths while sitting at the edge of the tub. Nowell has, though, never claimed disability in any official capacity.
"I can't truly describe it," Abiner says of the odor. "It's not a smell that I've run into before. It's stale, stagnant. It's definitely uncomfortable."
He is not sure if it is body odor. Neither can he pinpoint its exact source. "It's hard to tell if it was something in the unit. When we requested permission to enter, we were refused time and again. But there was a smell."
It seeped through the walls. It wafted up stairwells and elevator shafts. It was so bad, it rendered the other units on Nowell's floor unrentable. It was so bad, it made people dry-heave as they walked down the hallway. It was so bad, it caused the inspectors who examined Nowell's unit to gag and tear up. It was so bad, it attracted vermin. It was suffocating, overpowering, disgusting, distressing. It smelled like sour milk. Like diarrhea. Like mold.
Or so claimed witnesses at trial. Yes, the smell went to trial. Notably, all but one of management's witnesses were company employees. Cassandra Smith, the nice leasing agent, testified that the stench was so powerful it traveled six floors up, from the fourth floor to the 10th, where she lives.
No transcripts are available, as court reporters are no longer standard issue for lower-level trials, and neither party requested one in advance. But management, according to Nowell, testified that he had smeared feces on the walls, that he kept bags of urine in his apartment. Ludicrous allegations, Nowell says. "First of all, how do you even bag up urine?"
Nowell's next-door neighbor Robert Brunette, according to jury foreman Eric Andrist, testified that the smell was so bad it drifted into his apartment and saturated the objects within: his clothing, his bathroom towels, his curtains, his velvet room divider. Even the hair on his arms, Brunette claimed, was retaining the odor. Same for his beard, which he was supposedly forced to shave off.
Brunette, an animation production coordinator for TV's The Simpsons, claimed that co-workers remarked on his odor at the office. "Imagine the feeling of being trapped by this kind of smell," he emailed building management. The new tenant, Brunette went on, "looks like a wraith with his clothes rotting off of his body, his hair an overgrown, tangled knot of oil and dirt." His feet are "black claws." Silverfish and other small bugs "have been crawling out of his unit, and into mine." Brunette feared for his safety, for his very life. With the narrow hallway he and Nowell shared, "If he attacked me, there would be no way for anyone, let alone the security guard downstairs, to help me. I would be dead before anyone even noticed." No one, Brunette wrote, should have to live in fear of his neighbor.
Nowell, for his part, was equally scared. He recalls seeing Brunette a grand total of twice the whole time he lived there — mainly because Nowell was too afraid to venture outside.
It is a sad state of affairs: the two of them fearing and loathing each other, turning each other into nervous wrecks, their apartments conjoined like Siamese twins. The mere sound of Brunette's door opening and shutting set Nowell's teeth on edge. The same is undoubtedly true for Brunette, who declined to be interviewed for this story, saying only, "It was such a bad experience."
Nowell, in his way, did address the odor complaints. He bought bags of potpourri and incense and placed them beside his entryway. He lined up five bars of soap along the gap under the door. (Alas, it would have been more effective to use the soap for its intended purpose.)
At trial, Nowell's attorney, Leonard Friedman, brought in a private investigator, an ex-cop, who said that he smelled no noxious odors. He brought in an HVAC contractor to testify about the lack of ventilation in the hallways. Lacking ventilation, how could smells from the fourth floor travel up to the 10th?
Friedman didn't, however, bring in a single tenant from the building to refute the allegations of smelliness. "We couldn't locate any," he says simply.
Management testified that Nowell's body odor was terrible. Someone, though, wasn't buying it.
"It was bad, but it wasn't that bad," Andrist, the jury foreman, says. "You could tell they were over-the-top exaggerating. The manager was, like, 'I went in and the bags were seeping fluid.' They were, like, 'Did you look to see what was inside?' And she was, like, 'No! I feared for my life!' "
Smell, of course, is subjective. At times Nowell himself seems conflicted about the extent to which his scent offends. On the stand, he swore he washed his pants five times and still couldn't get the smell out.
The real nail in the coffin, however, was seeing Nowell in person. Andrist has always stood up for the underdog. He grew up around disabled people. He'd given up his job in musical theater production to care full-time for his disabled sister.
"But I have to admit, when William walked into the courtroom that first day, I was just as astonished as everyone else," he says.
Jurors saw the hair, the pants wadded up into a big ball at the waist. Then he walked past the jury box. They caught a whiff. "And that really swayed them."
During deliberations, the jury discounted Brunette, the beard-shaving Simpsons neighbor, right away. Too outrageous. But many opined that Nowell should have been responsible. He should have worn shoes. He should have kept himself clean. He shouldn't have had those bags. One juror, a schoolteacher, said he ought to have taken the initiative to make his life better.
"That's your life," Andrist argued. "You're putting your morals on this guy."
Andrist and one other guy were the holdouts. "I just didn't see how somebody could smell so badly it would permeate the entire building. That seemed preposterous to me," he says.
Eventually, after two and a half days of deliberations, even Andrist changed his mind on the most important question: Did Nowell break his contract? "I don't think he broke the contract by keeping his place dirty. But he did so technically by not letting them in to inspect."
SB Properties' lease allows for periodic inspections of tenants, given 24 hours' notice. "He was getting annoyed with it," Andrist says. "And they kept doing it, I think, to harass him and make him want to move out. He was gonna be guilty no matter what."
The jury ruled 11-1 that Nowell had violated the terms of his lease. He would have to leave.
Jurors never heard about the dead-body calls or the company's attempts to send him to a mental hospital, actions that could be interpreted as retaliation. While management accused Nowell of failing to open the windows to air out his unit, jurors never heard that those same windows had been screwed shut by management before he even moved in, for safety purposes.
Afterward, Andrist saw Nowell crying in the hallway. Another juror, the schoolteacher, approached Nowell with advice: "There are programs that can help you get your life together. Have you contacted any?"
Andrist was more empathetic. "I just want you to know," he told Nowell, "I don't agree with this."
He offered to go back to Nowell's apartment that very day, to see, and smell, for himself.
Eric Andrist entered Nowell's loft and smelled the overpowering stench of ... nothing.
It was, Andrist says, a tad airless, like an attic that's been closed up. "But it did not have any kind of a repulsive smell in the least."
There were the futon, the 125 plastic bags, the vitamin bottles piled on the kitchen counter. "But it was all neat and orderly."
Out in the hallway, normal apartment smells prevailed — a trash chute that management testified didn't reek but did, a Mediterranean cooking funk that Andrist got down on his hands and knees to sniff. But it wasn't coming from Nowell's unit. Then, the perfumey aroma of air fresheners in a cornucopia of flavors: Brunette, the next-door neighbor, had stuck them everywhere. Five on the door, a dozen more along the floor and dangling from the ceiling. "It was absolutely ridiculous," Andrist says.
"Open any bag you want," Nowell urged. So Andrist did. He saw magazines, books, canned goods, nothing perishable. No rotting garbage. No seeping fluids. No excrement, human or otherwise. Just bags of ordinary stuff.
"Oh, William," he said. "They lied to us."
They spent the rest of the day doing errands, racking up $125 on the cab meter. At Whole Foods, moms ushered their kids away protectively at the sight of Nowell, but the employees were polite and accommodating. Nowell, in turn, made a concession for them: He wore flip-flops in the store, taking them off the minute he left. "Get anything you want. Anything," he told Andrist at India Sweets & Spices in Culver City, where they sat outside with the cab driver, eating fritters, talking for hours.
For the next few weeks, they stayed in touch, strategizing and calling lawyers and advocates. Andrist wrote letters to the management company, to the judge. He found Nowell a lawyer for an appeal. "But she was insisting he clean himself up. She would not take the case unless he did. She wanted him to cut his hair, get some clothes," he recalls.
"You're asking a lot," Andrist warned her.
Nowell was furious. "William, your hair will grow back," Andrist argued. "It's not gonna kill you to lose it for a while."
"Would you do it if they asked you to sacrifice things that are important to you?" Nowell countered.
"To get out of a dire predicament, yes, I would," Andrist replied.
Nowell did not understand. "He would not let himself understand," Andrist says. They have not spoken since.
"If you didn't look at him, you'd think he was normal. Nothing wrong. Sweet and smart," Andrist adds. "He's not crazy. But even if he had been totally crazy, he didn't deserve this."
Nowell has since moved out of the building. He is back to living in motels. His $70-a-day room at the Bevonshire Motel across from the Grove is helter-skelter with plastic bags, which now include groceries salvaged from his former fridge — Swiss cheese, a jar of sliced pickles. On the bed, crumpled papers are lined up in neat little stacks beside his MacBook. "No necesita limpiar," he says to the cleaning woman.
"No?" she asks.
He gnaws on a fingernail. "I was on the other side of the fence for a long time. I'm exactly who they don't want around. I didn't fit the demographics of that building."
Right around the time he first moved in, before his smell troubles began, Nowell actually went out to the Fashion District and bought himself a pair of fresh, new pants. "I bought these clothes for myself, not to go to trial in. I didn't want the first time I wore them to be for an event like that," he says. "When you don't have anything and you finally get stuff, it's a special thing."
As for why Nowell doesn't shower regularly and wear clean clothes, "He said it's like a twitch," Andrist explains. "Doing the twitch eases the anxiety. Having the hair and the clothes is like the twitch being eased."
It is both the sickness and the cure.
After years and years, you become accustomed to something, Nowell explains. "Eric said, 'It's just hair.' But it's not. You wouldn't say, 'It's just a yarmulke.' It's like I'm stuck with this," he says, grabbing his filthy sweatshirt in genuine anguish. "It's difficult to shake. It's become an identity. I know it works against me."
Oddly enough, for the considerable bother it causes him, Nowell's appearance has worked for him in the past. The settlement he received, the money that made renting a luxury loft possible, came from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. According to MTA spokeswoman Gayle Anderson, Nowell alleged that bus operators denied him access to public transportation because of his appearance, and that such conduct violated his civil rights. He further alleged that drivers intentionally closed the front doors on him to prevent him from boarding. On those occasions when he was allowed to board, he said, he was asked to sit in the back of the bus. He sued. In January 2011, the MTA settled for $200,000.
But that's not why he didn't want to bathe.
"When I moved in, they made such a huge issue right from the start," he says.
If he cleaned up, they would think he did it because of them.
"It might be a childish way to react, but it also has to do with self-respect. Call it pride, or whatever you want. If they'd just left me alone, let me catch my breath. By them making an issue out of it, none of it happened. Everything went wrong."
Nowell admits there are patterns he's become locked into. "Enough people tell you you're a certain way, a bum, you think, 'I must be that.' When you're at the bottom of the barrel, everyone feels like they have the right to tell you what to do, where to do it and when. It becomes a reflex action to dig your feet in and say no," he says.
SB Properties kept his six months' prepaid rent plus double deposit. Now it is going after him for attorney's fees. Nowell estimates he paid his attorney $30,000. He isn't sure. He hasn't been counting the money too closely, except to note that he has less than a quarter of the original settlement left. He is spending much of the rest to appeal the jury verdict.
"Why did they allow me to sign the lease and immediately turn around and spend the next eight months trying to remove me?" he asks, unable to move on.
By the time SB got him out, it was August. The irony — and in this case there are many — is that his lease had only four months left.
Asked if he believes Nowell would have cleaned up on his own, had he just been left alone, SB Properties general manager Yaniv Abiner pauses for a long time, then finally says, "What do you think?"
Nowell, meanwhile, is on the hunt for a new place to live, noting wryly, "A roommate situation isn't going to work for me."
Yesterday, he explains over the phone, he went to see a unit in a downtown artists loft building, hoping that artists would be more understanding. The woman who owned it was waiting out front. She said no the minute she laid eyes on him, adding that he ought to try a halfway house for people on welfare. "I'm not the stereotype you think I am," he admonished her.
He did not wear the new pants. "I'm looking at them right now, in fact," he says.
It has been some time since he last took a bath.
I see vacant houses and homeless everday. Our ethics and our economy are to blame. How do realtors rationalize this?
If Mr Nowell wishes to live amongst others he need to recognize that he can't persist with his obsessive behaviour. It certainly seems that he has mental health issues. He refuses to accommodate all reasonable requests to clean himself up. He can't have it both ways. He creates his own misfortune.
For those who think there may be a lot more to this story than the article offers, Here are two stories from over a decade ago -- from the Weekly! -- about Mr. Nowell that may explain his behavior a little better:
Someone hates downtown gentrification, but certainly doesn't mind getting attention and forcing legal remedies.
@SBtenant read the articles... wow I remember this guy... horrendous the way he lived out there on Broadway. No,, SB had every right to do what they did. This man was not a victim, in my opinion, he has a personality disorder characterized with Passive Aggressive behaviors towards authorities. No amount of medication will cure him of this and because of his ant-social tendencies will seem very intelligent.Most sociopaths display higher than normal intelligence. wow! SO he goes from Broadway to SB .. this man is just like another Bill we know on Main Street. Same behavior patterns and intellect. Setting themselves up as plaintiffs , but not really wanting the money, just bucking the system. Passive Aggressive.
@SBtenant HAHAH!! I believe the Stinky One doth protest too much.
So he was passionately against the gentrification of downtown, won a 200K lawsuit against the city and decided that one of the most gentrified buildings downtown was EXACTLY where he wanted to live. When he lost his eviction case in court, he wept. Something just does not add up here.
It's not up to the leasing agent to decide whom to rent to. That's where management calls the shots. Can we stop villifying the poor woman (Smith) who tried to help this guy keep his apartment by giving him a gentle hint so as to cut down on the complaints against him? Would we rather she have called up and said "everyone thinks you smell and if you don't stop the managers will kick you out"? Considering how oddly/entitled/insulted he responded to her act of kindness, I can only imagine how THAT would have gone over.
@Mokiki yes! some folks need to be told these things. When I go on a ketogenic diet when cutting for bodybuilding, I can imagine how bad I smell . No amount of soap and water can get rid of the smell. you have dragon breathe and the smell of ketones coming from your pores is horrendous. Friend of mine asked me if I still smelled yesterday. If you care for someone and have their best interests at heart you will tell them something.
@dgarzila1 @Mokiki @dgarzila - Not to stray off topic, but you reminded me about how my first BF had really awful breath and we didn't know why. He constantly brushed and rinsed. But he was a bodybuilder at the time, and I always thought it had something to do with the protein drinks he consumed. Now I realize it was the ketones. So, good to know.
I have been around a lot of these people. He was planting himself as a plaintiff. He got the money from MTA for being disheveled etc and maybe stinky, but in this case he was looking for another civil rights windfall from the owner of this building. I used to live in skid row and they call this : the big lick. It is disgusting how people think that this guy did not plan it this way. I am with management. I have an illness etc. But that doesn't mean I can be all stinky around my neighbors. Man with all of that money I would have had a suit for everyday of the week. No... This man was calculating looking for another pay out. I am convinced of this.
Eric Andrist (july1962): I read this article and was left wondering why nobody would have taken the time to help Mr. Stinky out with his financial/living choices as he'd obviously been out of society's mainstream loop for far too long. I felt bad because I figured he had no friends capable of providing such "services", assuming any friends he had would also be homeless, etc.
Reading your comments here have surprised me. You seem to be fairly well-adjusted (rude and arrogant but used to living around other people, etc). You seem to be well acquainted with Mr. Stinky. If all this is true then you know full well he had no hope of dealing with that monetary landfall - you must have known he'd blow it and lose it all. And you must have known that Mr. Stinky would not fit in well at the place he rented, which doesn't sound like a good place for 20 year street vetrans.
So my question is where were you when it counted? You can post all you want here, insulting everybody that doesn't agree with you, stating how wonderful Mr. Stinky is, etc, but that doesn't do him any good and I doubt anybody really cares about what you have to say, anyway. Mr. Stinky is out and running low on cash. He'll have wasted the rest soon enough. But he'll always have some finely-aged sweat pants, so I guess all is well there.
So where were you, Mr. Stinky's good friend, when he needed advice and assistance, when you could have helped him make better decisions?
It's too late now, you failed your friend. But by all means, go on preaching and insulting a bunch of strangers on a stupid comment board.
@Lamedeal well said. i think mr stinky's friend is really just trying to help his putrid buddy repeat his initial success against the metro system, and cash in on a new lawsuit vs the SB. then mr stinky can attempt to cause considerable offense and unhappiness to a whole new slew of people. after all, its not illegal, right?
Hmm...sounds like management wanted to fill a unit (i.e. receive $$$) , then remembered after the fact that they didn't actually like him. Sad.
@Sunnie its not hard to fill units downtown. it sounds more like someone took pity on the man and expected him to clean himself up now that he wouldnt be homeless anymore. the fact that the man wouldnt do that makes him an unfit neighbor. restaurants can deny service to people who dont wear shoes, but an apartment cant enforce minimal hygienic standards? do you want to be forced to smell him eating at the table next to you since the law doesnt define what poor hygiene is?
@peabody3000 @Sunnie It was never part of his contract that he was to "clean himself up." They knew what he looked and smelled like and allowed him to rent anyway. It's not that he "wouldn't" clean up, it's that within weeks of him moving in, they began harassing him. He had no incentive to call what he was paying all that money for, "home," and the harassment ended up making matters worse for him. His plan to better his life was ruined by the management company, and now they've taken away a huge chunk of the money he had to get his life on track. And no, if it isn't in the rental agreement, the apartment building can't enforce it. A private business like a restaurant doesn't have a contract with it's customers. They can ask him to leave if they want...the loft building cannot.
@nickbravolives @july1962 @peabody3000 @Sunnie i don't believe i've misunderstood anything at all. i think i know exactly what july is saying but it doesn't change my position, which is one that bears no animosity towards newell but i would never allow him to be in my personal daily home life
@peabody3000 @july1962 @Sunnie actually , skid row housing trust is moving the most hardest to get off of the streets into their units. So there are options. I am glad he lost his lawsuit against the SB, but it is being appealed , so we may see some attorney looking for notoriety join the team and possibly win. But I have seen this issue in skid row happening for a while now. I wish I could find the term : plant the plaintiff, somewhere on the internet , but I can't. These people like WIlliam are very patient even to the point of enduring jail time to get the big civil rights lawsuit money. You can bet he has squirreled some of that money away somewhere. I have learned never to associate poverty with mental illness or lack of intelligence.
@dgarzila1 @july1962 @Sunnie william, either due to trying to enrich himself, or just holding a smelly chip on his smelly shoulder against all of humanity, has only made it harder for people who need to be given a chance to actually get one. if a man moves off the street and insists on stinking like a pile of excrement when he has his own bathroom and organic soap, how will other people attempting to move off the street into normal society be treated? either way its an extremely selfish william and im glad he cant afford to assault peoples senses anymore
@july1962 @peabody3000 @Sunnie i have been downtown long enough to know that even the SB Lofts , was willing to rent to someone who may have been in the process of cleaning themselves up and help him to redeem himself. It would have been a win win if he had done so. If they had offered to return his rent money and he refused ,,, we all know that William was basically looking for another lawsuit, which he got and which he lost. Yes, if he couldn't get decent clothes and a haircut in a couple of weeks management knew something was up. Believe me,,, SB has plenty of people waiting to rent. The problem would have been tenants using William as an excuse not to pay their rents and SB losing out on rent from current tenants . It wasn't that People didn't want him around because he stunk, they were looking to use him as a way to get out of paying their rents and they sue the landlord. Pretexts on both ends of the spectrum... people tend to look for ways to get over. Willliam looking for another lawsuit and the current tenants looking to save on rent due to habitability issues and possibly the threat of going public that they rent to homeless people. In this case SB won and rightly so.
@july1962 @Sunnie and your statement that they "knew what he smelled like" is totally meaningless. how would they know that he would refuse to bathe and launder, or to even replace his balled up sweats? your putrid friend chose all of this. i feel sorry for him in fact, but i would never allow him to make his problems become mine. never. he'll be back on the streets soon and it will be his own doing
@july1962 @Sunnie you keep trying to fall back on whats in the contract and whats in the law books, when neither of those were written to specifically address what happens when a person actually decides to out-stink a pile of hot trash. imagine if there were no contractual stipulations or laws against loud noise, but somebody played were to play music at top volume 24 hrs a day. nothing would stop me and my fellow neighbors from ridding ourselves of the pest. you are making a sophist argument. let me put it this way: he will never have peace until he gets over his hygiene problem, and thats the way society works regardless of what lawyers can pull out of the law books
i heartily applaud this man asserting his right to stink, to never bathe, and to generally be a patron saint of bad hygeine. nobody should be forced to conform to other peoples concepts of what is acceptable. HOWEVER.. the idea that he should be able to mingle freely amongst the washed masses, and that other people have no right to be protected from his clearly offensive odor and appearance, is absolutely ridiculous on its face
@peabody3000 you say that from the safety of your computer monitor but if you had to live next door to this fellow- I'm sure you wouldn't be applauding anything.
I live in this building- and I yelled at a few of my neighbors for pitching a tantrum at the front security guard when this dude first moved in. I believe their comments were "DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW DANGEROUS THIS IS?- WHO THE F*** LET HIM MOVE IN" I called them spoiled yuppies and said they should move back to west hollywood if they can't give a man a chance downtown.
I began to eat my own words in about a month. Every time William came down into the loby- the entire 3000sq ft space would fill with a smell I can only describe as a person fermenting in vinegar. Even after he left- the smell would persist for about 10 minutes- that's straight up wizardry! Now we live downtown... where human feces, vomit, garbage, desperation and dog pee are all odors that assault your face on a daily basis. I bet you can't even fathom a smell that would make you second guess your own human decadency.
@hplant i think you only read my first sentence. it was tongue in cheek but was made to draw a philisophical distinction between having the right to be putrid vs the separate issue of inflicting that upon others unchecked, which i then go on to say is something i do not support at all
@peabody3000 No more ridiculous than what you just wrote. How old are you? 12? First of all, he's not asserting his right to stink, he's asserting his right to live for a year in a loft he paid for and signed a contract for. He smelled and looked the way he did when he signed the contract, and the building kicked him out for it. So why don't you try to stay on topic here instead of making a fool of yourself.
@july1962 @peabody3000 It does not matter if he paid for the unit up-front. He may be renting the space, but the property still belongs to the landlord, and the landlord has every right and reason to evict somebody if they are negatively impacting other tenants in the building, which this man very much was. When you rent somebody else's property, you accept certain responsibilities, like taking care of the unit, not stinking the place up, not making loud noises, respecting the basic wishes of the property owner (like wearing shoes in the general areas or, you know, taking a bath so you don't make the entire place reek), etc. It's basic common courtesy. And the reality is that this man's stench was creating unsuitable living conditions for his neighbors. He deserved to be kicked out, especially when you consider that the landlord could have rented the unit to anybody. He had plenty of money, but also plenty of excuses not to alter his behavior. (Oh, I can't use soap, it has "chemical stuff." Oh, I can't wear shoes, it's not "in my heart" to do so. Oh, I can't wash my clothes or buy new ones, but I'll be happy to spend thousands of dollars on expensive electronics and software.)
Let the man sleep in the gutter, because I'm certain there are entire droves of homeless/impoverished individuals who would actually be grateful to be handed a second chance like he was, and would use it to productive ends. Heck, even *I* would love to have been given the opportunity that he was.
@july1962 the topic is the fact that people rightly wont put up with being neighbors with someone so irresponsible about their smell and appearance. good for them
@july1962 so are you going to give him a place to stay when his money runs out?
So let me get this straight, this guy gets 200,000 dollars from the city and prefers to give most of it to lawyers rather than take a bath. Am I missing something here. I will never see that kind of money in my lifetime but if I did the first thing I would do is move out of this godawful city. I'm all about standing up for your rights and individuality but this guy is just plain STUPID. He's the poster child and the reason I never give my hard earned money to the homeless. It would just be completely wasted.
@croupier Show me where it says ANYWHERE that he "preferred" to give the moneys to lawyers rather than take a bath. You're either making that up, trying to be provocative, or you're just stupid. So Yes, you ARE missing something here! How was he stupid? He signed a contract, the management lied and broke the agreement, and he was forced to move out. How was he stupid? Ever hear of KARMA? I'd sure as hell watch your attitude because one day, you might be in his position and no one's going to help you.
I'm glad he doesn't live next door to me. I think the freedom to extend one's arm ends at...my nose.
@Timo Another person who didn't read clearly. You would not have smelled him just "living" next door to him, unless you were in his loft with him, sitting within 10 feet of him.
@july1962 @Timo yo dude...I lived in the building with him, and defended him against my douchebag neighbors. However, his stench did have magical properties. living in a cement building where peoples lifestyles often ooze in stench form into the hallway- where it sits for weeks. I can't imagine what it would have been like living next to william- nor can you.
@july1962 @Timo And you are another person with a political chip on his shoulder. I stand by my original comment: "I'm glad he doesn't live next door to me...". I certainly don't endorse misrepresentation of facts in a civil proceeding, but clearly Mr. Nowell has issues that make him a poor neighbor.
This story was really upsetting, the way people can be discriminatory and lie under oath....however I'm glad his story was told.
a shame people have no tolerance for things they dont understand. I hope Mr. Nowell finds his place of "quiet enjoyment" unfortunately DTWN LA is not the tolerant place. its full of a bunch of annoying hipster folk. Id go somewhere by Griffith park, pppl are nicer :)
his big mistake was moving into the Smug area of DTLA Condo/Loft Real Estate...should of found a Nice Home for rent else where..opinion. DTLA SuX.
If the guy wants to live like a feral, he should just purchase a little shack out in the country or the woods where he won't bother civilized urbanites. He shouldn't insist on living among society if he cannot maintain himself.
@meladiction He DIDN'T "want" to live "like a feral," that's why he was trying to rent a loft. Clearly you have no clue about morality.
@july1962 Really, he needs to dismiss himself from the city instead of forcing others to deal with his personal hygiene idiosyncrasies. I've been a transit rider in L.A. for many years and agree that those who don't bathe and smell awful should not be allowed on the buses. They are like walking petri dishes carrying colonies of bacteria and microbes and possibly parasites which can travel to other people. He can live however he chooses, but not as an imposition to others who are negatively affected by it.
@crazyirishdan @july1962 @meladiction there are places where he can stink up a storm in peace. a loft apartment building isnt one of them. i feel sorry for him but someone who refuses to bathe will never, ever be a neighbor of mine, period. all of your crass raging insults wont change any of that, so go ahead and keep on pissing into the wind
@peabody3000 @july1962 @meladiction YOU are a piece of trash with a good PR department and very little else to show for it in the 'human being' test. A very small person who deserves to walk a mile in that man's shoes and see how vile the above comment is. Your only claim to decency is your money and for once the 'untouchable' had more money than you and got treated like an equal, and it must really get your goat. You're a fascist and that's about the end of that. He's somewhat different and obviously mentally ill, so he deserves to be kicked out of his paid for with cash apartment because of such issues, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act? He admits he has mental problems, ie he has mental health issues, even if he isn't 'crazy', so you're basically not only kicking a man when he's down, you're doing it to a disabled person. Do you dump guys out of wheelchairs and tell them to go wash and get a job? Your rationale is pure bigotry and you obviously have never talked to this man for even a minute. You, sir, DESERVE to be destitute on the streets with a hand out by merely exhibiting such a crass attitude towards another human being, and I for one hope you find yourself there sooner than you can imagine, and I want you to remember me when you arrive. You're also a piece of fucking trash that thinks they're some kind of big shot when in reality a truly 'rich person' wouldn't wipe their ass with a wannabe pseudo-wealthy jackoff like you. I'll bet you can almost afford the lease payment on an entry level luxury car and you wanna act like you're Donald Trump, bleached weasel on his head and all....get a fucking life and please go sterilize yourself before your genotype spreads.
@peabody3000 @meladiction I'm not "contending" any such thing, I know for a fact that's true. He RARELY left his loft, only to buy groceries and pay bills, which he'd do all at one time. If you wouldn't want to expose yourself or your friends to a human being that lives like that, you would be free to move. I never rationalized any such thing! I'm done arguing with you, you're clearly here just to be provocative and stir the pot. Anyone who chooses to write "um," can't be very intelligent to begin with.
@july1962 @meladiction while i do NOT contend that he stunk up the entire building, you ARE apparently contending that he stayed squirreled away in his apt at all times, safe distance from anyone's nose or eyes. there is no way i would want to expose myself or my friends that i have over to my place to that person for even a second. FOR EVEN A SECOND. your rationale that that just because the law doesnt directly address this means that it cannot be dealt with in any way by responsible people doesnt pass the, um, smell test. LOL. soon he wont be able to afford to get in people's noses anymore and im glad about that, very glad :)
@peabody3000 @meladiction Where do you get this stuff?! There are laws against loud noise, there are no laws against stinking. Or, are you King now, and changing the laws? Why do you say "forcing someone to smell." He did NO SUCH THING! He was content sitting in his loft, minding his own business. Clearly you have not read the article or all the comments. You are contending that the management company was telling the truth and that he was smelling up the entire building, all the way to the 10th floor! THAT'S NOT TRUE, and the whole point behind the article!
@july1962 @meladiction if nobody has a right to expect any protection from offensive odor and lack of hygiene, then nobody has a right to protection from loud music. forcing someone to smell something horrible is far, far worse than forcing someone to hear something musical. tell that to your sociopathically putrid friend next time he wants to complain about the noise
@meladiction He doesn't force anyone to do anything! What the hell are you talking about? You're just trying to be provocative. If we go by your irrational rationale, people who wear too much perfume, smokers, etc., should also not be allowed to ride the bus. As for cleanliness of buses, kids with dirty diapers and normal people who have sat somewhere else that's dirty are going to spread that stuff as well, so it's not likely you'll ever be away from you germs. Get over it. But you're wrong...he can live anywhere he likes regardless of whether someone doesn't like his smell. There is no law against stinking.
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