California tenants need the right to organize.
Our housing crisis is an eviction crisis. Tenants are not only facing steep costs to move into a new home. They are also facing threats from massive rent increases, Ellis act evictions, and short term rental schemes. In short, tenants are under siege by the forces of capital.
“You are putting humans out on the street with nowhere to go.” – Robert Evans, Expo Tenant
Tenants work hard to pay the rent, working two or even three jobs. But landlords can evict tenants for no reason at all, putting families on the street. A landlord with enough money to own an apartment building has enough money to afford a lawyer. Working tenants don’t have the money to afford an expensive trial.
Too often this is a lonely fight. Each tenant is trying to protect their home by themselves. It’s scary facing an uphill battle that may cost you your home.
These numbers don’t even count the people who choose to move because their stagnant wages make staying unaffordable. Families are moving out of LA in record numbers because they can’t raise their children in a city where costs rise while workers earn less.
Eviction and displacement stories are too common.
The Ellison is a rent controlled building in Venice. Since it first opened it has provided affordable housing for people from all walks of life: teachers, nurses, and artists. It was a quintessentially Venice place to live. That is until Lance Robbins bought the property.
Robbins is probably one of LA’s worst landlords. He’s been sued by the city many times for failing to maintain his buildings and has been called a slumlord by at least one judge.
“If you are wondering why the rental housing market in a place like Venice Beach is so tight, look no further than your nearest laptop. Fire it up and find dozens of websites advertising hotels and houses ‘just steps from the sand.'” – Robin Abcarian, Los Angeles Times
The demand for hotel rooms in Venice climbs every year. Robbins and his management company can charge hundreds of dollars a night, pocketing obscene profits. Instead of 57 units of affordable housing, The Ellison is now home to only a handful of residents. The rest of the units are now hotel rooms, the courtyard is a de facto lobby, and weekly public events bring party goers enticed with free wine tastings.
Most of the long term tenants chose to leave on their own. Why would you continue to pay rent to live in poor conditions? Years of neglect left the elevator broken, walkways unusable, and ceilings deteriorating. No matter how much they asked for repairs, building management did nothing. Faced with a dilapidated building and a hostile landlord it seemed like the only choice.
Others decided to stay and fight for their homes. But it has been a very long road. Despite years of complaints, lawsuits, and orders from the city to stop; Robbins has continued his quest to pocket as much money as possible at the expense of tenants’ health and wellbeing.
The tenants that stayed have only been able to because they organized, and even then it has taken an incredible amount of courage. They still pay the rent on time every month. They help each other navigate the broken building to deliver groceries and make doctor’s appointments. It looks like the city might finally bring them some relief, but it has taken far too long.
They are not alone, demand for new expensive housing makes tenants across the city targets.
Along the Expo Line corridor rent prices have spiked and longtime residents have been forced out. 7 buildings adjacent to the University of Southern California were sold to Chung Suk Kim and Hae Jung Kim in 2018. Instead of meeting their tenants, they immediately posted eviction notices.
“They are, in short, a developer’s dream come true: the perfect land grab in the never-ending game of speculative development.” – Jacob Woocher, KNOCK.LA
It didn’t matter that these tenants were up to date on the rent or had raised their families there, it only mattered that that landlords wanted to turn the biggest profit they could. LA’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance didn’t cover the buildings, so the tenants had no legal protections from eviction.
They organized and fought, but in the end they lost. 80 people lost their homes without protection under the law. Now those units rent for $3,000 a month.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Senator Elena Durazo has introduced Senate Bill 529 (SB 529) that will give tenants the right to organize tenant associations, withhold rent for poor conditions, and protect them from retaliation. This is a complex crisis and it requires a complete solution.
Right now, SB 529 is being debated in the California Senate and it is target number 1 for landlords and developers. The forces of capital are fighting as hard as their money can to stop tenants from organizing and gaining legal protections.
Housing is seen as a way for landlords to earn income, not as a place for people to live. We need to change this, we need to make housing a human right.
We’re committed to seeing these protections enshrined in law. You can make sure that happens.