How to collectively push back against the forces of gentrification
In light of the precedent-setting victory for the Mariachis in Boyle Heights last month, in which tenants living in non-RSO units protested obscene rent hikes and won, a model has emerged for tenants to fight back against their displacement. Collective methods of struggle are becoming increasingly necessary as the law remains drastically on the side of the propertied, and city officials continue to do everything they can to curry favor with landlords and liberal YIMBYs, on their way to future mayoral runs promising high-end luxury developments and “safe bike lanes” in rapidly gentrifying areas.
While the Mariachis proved that you can win when the law is not on your side, their example is also useful for tenants living in RSO units who are being forced out of their homes through the Ellis Act—a no-fault eviction law that has been used more than 23,000 times since 2001 in the city of Los Angeles alone. If this weren't enough, the city attorney has made matters worse via the use of gang injunctions—a blunt tool of criminalization that has been used time and again against vulnerable communities across Los Angeles. Given these and other pressures, it may seem like there’s no stopping the wave of gentrification overtaking our city. How can tenants use the example of the Mariachis to withstand the displacement epidemic from overwhelming them and their communities?
One of the first steps tenants can and should take to follow in the Mariachis' footsteps is to form a tenants association. The ability to form a tenants association is a legal right under California law. Collectively declaring this to a landlord is, firstly, a strong preventative measure, potentially stopping an owner or management company in their tracks after warning signs of nefarious activity. In extremis, it is necessary for coordinating pushback in residences where the landlord has made it clear they want all their tenants out. Forming an association can help tenants thoroughly document any and all landlord aggression, which could be useful in ensuing legal battles. Formally indicating that every tenant has made complaints and demands to the landlord will also protect you from landlord retaliation, which is illegal within six months of filing a complaint.
The following was written by the members of the Exposition Tenants Association—located near Exposition Park in University Park—in response to the 60 and 90-day notices to quit that they received after new owners Kim Chung Suk and Kim Hae Jung told them they were going to renovate the units and rent them exclusively to USC Students. In this letter, the residents declare all seven buildings on the block as a part of the tenants association, document all the substandard conditions, and list their demands—most notably, to meet and negotiate with the owners directly.
November 21, 2017
To Kim Chung Suk and Kim Hae Jung,
The undersigned, through this letter, want to notify the administration of the Exposition Blvd apartments (1100, 1104, 1108, 1110, 1120, 1124, 1132) and their owners the following:
- We have become a tenants association of residents at the Exposition Blvd apartments to negotiate the points presented below.
- We are asking for a meeting with the building owners and their representatives in a time to be determined with you and our association. We would like a response by Wednesday November 29, 2017, with possible dates to meet with you.
- We are writing in response to the Notice-To-Quit letters received by the Exposition Blvd tenants on October 12, 2017. Tenants at 1104 and 1108 Exposition Blvd received 60-day notices-to-quit and tenants at 1100, 1110, 1120, and 1124 Exposition Blvd received 90-day notices-to-quit.
As a tenants association we have come together and agreed to issue the following demands:
The Right to Stay in Our Homes
All tenants agree that the allotted 60 and 90 days to relocate is not a reasonable amount of time to find affordable housing in Los Angeles. We also note that tenants living in 1104 and 1108 were not individually served these notices and no documents were provided in Spanish for monolingual Spanish speakers in any of the buildings.
- We demand the right to respond to these changes, and the right to negotiate our housing situation.
- We demand the right to stay in our homes.
- We demand the right to negotiate reasonable rents for our continued stay.
- We demand that all services (gas, power), in all units where tenants currently reside, are continued after December 15. This includes all units in 1104 and 1108 where tenants have been continually threatened by [former master tenant] that services will be shut off for all residents to forcibly evict them by December 15.
- We demand an immediate end to all harassment. We have documented cases of [former master tenant] physically removing residents from their units rather than going through the eviction process.
- We demand the right to be notified of all changes to our housing situation, and to be notified in our native languages.
- We demand to know to whom the tenants in 1104 and 1108 pay rent. [The former master tenant] and [the former landlord] from Buena Town Management are separately trying to collect rent from these tenants.
The Right to Live in Fair, Decent, and Habitable Housing
All tenants in the Exposition Blvd apartments have endured slumlord living conditions (massive bedbug infestations, a broken elevator, leaking pipes and ceilings, etc.) for the entirety of their stay. Upon purchasing the properties, you have continued to force us to live in these conditions by neglecting these issues and actively threatening us to leave whenever we file new complaints. Below is a summary of the current habitability issues that need to be addressed as soon as possible.
Bed bugs, roaches, pests
The neglect of this property has led to a host of bed bugs, roaches, rats, termites which violates city health code and requires immediate pest control. The bed bug infestation is rampant throughout the buildings - adults, seniors, and babies as young as 1 years old must withstand daily bites.
Several units have mold from roof and plumbing leaks that are creating health hazards for the elderly, youth and disabled. As a result, we have documented cases of respiratory problems among the tenants.
Leaking pipes and ceiling
There are multiple roof leaks and plumbing leaks in many units. In 1110, a kitchen pipe leak is so severe that the kitchen cabinetry is rotting.
Many units have substandard cabinetry that tenants have requested repairs for repeatedly to the previous owner and to the new owners.
Faulty electrical outlets
There are electrical outlets in many units that are fire hazards due to excessive sparking.
Broken elevator (1120)
Disabled tenants in 1120 have had no access to an elevator for the past 4 years. The broken elevator lead paramedics to have to carry a deceased tenant down three flights of stairs.
Several units have broken sinks.
Broken windows and door frames
Many units are insecure due to broken windows and door frames.
Floors in all the units are unstable with many spots that seem ready to collapse in.
No smoke or carbon monoxide detectors
There are no smoke or carbon monoxide detectors in many units as required by law.
Lights in 1104 entrance
The lights in the entrance and main hallway of 1104 have been out for weeks.
Loud construction at unreasonable hours
A week ago, construction workers began to do heavy construction in the unoccupied unit in 1100. This construction has occurred every day as early as 6:00 A.M. and continued as late as 7:00 P.M.
- We demand that all construction in empty units is immediately halted until adequate repairs to all the above are made in all the units where tenants are currently living.
We expect a prompt response from you to present more details and establish the terms of our conversation. We are doing this in good faith, seeking a common agreement with you as representatives and owners. We are not reneging on our responsibilities as established by law and our contracts as tenants and hope to reach a satisfactory agreement with you.
The Exposition Tenants Association is comprised of primarily Black, Latinx, disabled, and low-income tenants. By seeking our displacement from our homes, you are targeting us as members of marginalized communities and directly contributing to the homeless epidemic that is currently affecting our city. In 2016, the county counted a total 44,359 homeless individuals, which you, personally, seek to increase. Please respond to our letter with a plan to keep us in our homes and to return the building to a habitable state. Our association can be reached at [redacted]. Retaliation against tenants that are in or out of the union will not be tolerated.
Tenant Association from the Apartments 1100, 1104, 1108, 1110, 1120, 1124, 1132 Exposition Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007.
You can support the Exposition Tenants Association through their GoFundMe for legal fees.