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ACLU to Help Defend Venice Tenants in Suit

November 03, 2000

VENICE — A lengthy and bitter dispute between low-income tenants and the property owners redeveloping their complex accelerated Thursday when the American Civil Liberties Union agreed to help defend hundreds of families at Lincoln Place Apartments.

ACLU staff attorney Dan Tokaji on Thursday accused the Los Angeles Lincoln Place Investors of trying to chill tenants' rights to free speech with a Sept. 20 lawsuit. The landlord's lawsuit accuses tenants of conspiring to devalue the property by preventing the owners from converting the low-income complex into luxury housing.

For years, tenants and city officials have opposed the redevelopment plans because they say it would displace too many low-income families.

Tokaji on Thursday filed motions urging Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory C. O'Brien to dismiss the landlord's case. No ruling was made.

"They're going after these tenants because the tenants had the courage to speak out," Tokaji said. "The suit is a classic strategic lawsuit against public participation."

But the landlord's attorney, Allan Abshez, said the tenants were sued because they were vandalizing property and breaching their leases.

The suit centers on one building in the 795-unit complex. During the ongoing $1-million renovation, tenants in the 28-unit building were ordered to move their cars. They refused, and Abshez said they destroyed locks, tore down posted notices and flooded the property from outdoor faucets.

As a result, Abshez said, the owners filed an eviction suit on Sept. 20 against the allegedly disruptive tenants. "This lawsuit has nothing to do with the tenants' rights to speech," he said. "It's about vandalism and it's about people refusing to honor their leases and encouraging others to breach their leases."

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