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Renters Serve Notice to Landlords

Protest: Advocates and angry tenants who say the system is rigged against them rally in downtown L.A. to push for new state laws.

April 05, 2002|JOCELYN Y. STEWART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Luz Reyes made the journey because her rent is increasing $300, and there is no way she can pay it.

Esperanza Santiago came because the city is forcing her eviction from the garage she has lived in for 12 years, and she has nowhere to go.

Patrick O'Rourke trekked here to tell his story of complaining about unsafe conditions in his building, then being forced to move. He had no means of fighting back.

In a rally held Thursday outside the downtown Los Angeles courthouse where eviction cases are heard every day, scores of tenants gathered to protest a legal system and public policies that they say are stacked against them.

The event was also the kickoff of a statewide campaign to win passage of legislation that would increase protection for tenants.

Tenants say a wave of unfair evictions and other abuses have gone unchecked in the region's tight housing market, filling them with intimidation and fear.

"Everybody is nervous," Reyes said, clutching her daughter with one hand and a rent-increase notice in the other. "We are low-income people. We don't have the money to pay the rent. We don't know where we're going to live."

For advocates and tenants who complain of being voiceless, the campaign is the start of what they hope will grow into a stronger lobby for tenants' rights.

"It's important for us to come together and make this legislation stick," Abdullah Muhammad, a member of the Assn. of Community Organizations for Reform Now, told the crowd of protesters.

In most cities, tenants are given a 30-day notice when a landlord plans to sell the property, upgrade or move in--which are known as no-fault evictions. But advocates argue that 30 days is not enough time to find housing, particularly with low vacancy rates.

Under a pilot program in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and West Hollywood, landlords are now required to give 60-day notice in no-fault evictions.

Senate Bill 1403, proposed by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), would give communities the option of joining the pilot program, requiring the 60-day notice when the rental vacancy rate is less than 10%.

Kuehl also proposed the legislation that created the program.

"The 30-day notice had caused an enormous amount of dislocation, anxiety and pain," Kuehl said. "To double the time doesn't alleviate the pain, but it's an improvement over the previous law."

Another tenants rights bill would strengthen the law against retaliatory evictions. The proposal by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-San Francisco), AB 2330, would prohibit landlords from evicting tenants who participate in a tenants association or who exert other rights under existing laws.

The legislation would also allow tenants who are charged two months' rent as a security deposit to pay in installments. Additionally, tenants who have lost their jobs would be able to use part of their security deposit as an emergency rent payment. The tenant would then pay the deposit back in installments.

The bills are opposed by the Apartment Owners Assn. of Greater Los Angeles.

"The job of the apartment owner is to provide a commodity, which is housing--we're not a credit union," said Charles Isham, executive vice president of the group.

Thursday's rally drew tenants from throughout the city facing a range of problems.

Yong Pak said she wanted to do something to "help with all the evictions of poor people." She added: "We're trying to come together for them."

Gustavo Hernandez, a tenant who said he beat an unfair eviction in court, sounded a note of victory amid the chorus of sad stories.

"There are laws, but if we don't raise up in protest, [landlords are] not going to follow them," Hernandez said.

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