What are Tenant’s Rights in the Midst of LA’s Affordable Housing Crisis?

TENANT’S RIGHTS--Close to four Million people reside in Los Angeles according to an annual population report by the California Department of Finance dated May 1, 2017 


The same report shows that Los Angeles led the state with a net gain of 15,992 multi-family units in 2016. Aside from that report, in many urban neighborhoods of Los Angeles, there are numerous older apartment units as well as single-family units on a single lot that are being boarded up, fenced off for demolition or restoration.  Tenant displacements and evictions go hand in hand with new developments and are increasing in number across the city. 

The Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA) reports that nearly 60% of all Los Angeles residents live in rental housing units. 

Most rental units and property in Los Angeles built before October 1, 1978 fall under the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO); which regulates and preserves the older housing stock. 

On June 28 the Los Angeles City Department of Neighborhood Empowerment and the Silver Lake Neighborhood Council hosted a Tenants’ Rights Workshop, in response to the need for orientation when eviction and displacement hits home. Carlos Aguilar, CEO of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) served as a resource for tenants who are at the brink of displacement from their local rental units in Silver Lake and Echo Park. At minimum, we empower tenants with their rental rights by informing them of the Housing Department’s eviction process under the RSO, Aguilar said.  “We want people to stay in their units.” 

Aguilar enumerated the regulations of the RSO that tenants need to be aware of when faced with a notice to vacate rental unit. “You’re not obligated to accept the ‘Keys for Pay’ letter,” he said. The property owner may recover possession of a rental unit to either demolish or to remove the unit permanently from rental housing market known as Ellis Act; however, tenants have rights and are entitled to proper eviction notices. 

According to Relocation Assistance, Rent Stabilization Bulletin/ HCIDLA, All tenants at risk of not-at-fault evictions shall be paid relocation assistance, and must receive a Letter of Introduction from HCIDLA with information “that an application of Intent to Evict has been filed by property owner indicating Type of Eviction, Case Number, Assigned Analyst name and contact information for tenant inquiries and assistance, as well as to contact of City’s relocation consultant prior to tenant eviction.  Failure to file the Landlord Declaration with the Housing Department makes the eviction a violation of the RSO. 

Sometimes tenants are given fraudulent information by management or owners, Aguilar said. According Tenant Rights and Responsibilities/ HCIDLA, tenants are entitled to a 120-day notice of eviction. The Property owner is also responsible for providing tenant with the completed Notice to Tenant of Pending Withdrawal and a blank Notice of Interest in Renewing Tenancy. The Notice of Eviction and forms should be provided within 5 days of the property owner’s filing with the housing department. 

Developers, new buyers as investors, and even corporations are targeting LA’s housing stock, Aguilar said. Their primary targets are the older, long term renters, the ones who have been living in their units the longest and are renting at lower rates versus newer tenants who’re paying almost at market rate, he clarified. 

Over the last three years in Silver Lake, there has been a large and concentrated turnover of apartment owners that has resulted in displacement of tenants such as the three-square blocks between the 101 Freeway to Sunset Boulevard and Coronado Street to Benton Way. To take a single block as an example, Ilna Yana--a new owner of a 12-unit one-bedroom apartment building,  in the block of 800 North Coronado Street—said, “I decided to give my building a face lift. Nine renters decided to leave on their own with compensation, and three tenants decided to stay.”  Meanwhile, across Coronado Street from Ilna’s apartment, an old one-house triplex was remodeled to its original craftsman style and presently sits vacant. Three households were displaced from the triplex, said an adjacent renter, “They were told to leave.”  Also, last year adjacent to Ilna’s apartment building, several 1920’s California bungalows were vacated and demolished leaving several still vacant lots. 

Another resident of Silver Lake stated she received a letter from the realtor representing the new owner of her rental unit, “with the intent to buy me out,” she said, “and the interesting part is that another tenant has not received a letter.” 

The property is in Escrow, owner has a potential buyer who wants to take possession of property without any tenants.  “The new amendment to the RSO reads that if an owner is going to do a ‘cash for keys’ transaction, the owner needs to file a Landlord Declaration with Intent to Evict with HCIDLA, said Aguilar, and the ‘cash for keys’ buy out letter needs to provide an attached notice from the Housing Department [HCIDLA] that tenant has the right to not accept the cash for a buy out.”  Aguilar emphasized that HCIDLA has a notice granting tenants the right to not accept the ‘cash for keys’ buy out in situations that require it. “In this case, the realtor has not provided the proper documents,” said Aguilar. 

Aguilar’s group holds counseling in the Fairfax area which has a high concentration of elderly renters who are susceptible to displacement. CES offers individual counseling to assist with tenants’ rights on Wednesday evenings starting at 7 p.m. and Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. at Plummer Park, 7377 Santa Monica Boulevard in the Senior Center. No information will be provided over the phone or by email. Public must come to the clinic to receive assistance. Contact information: www.cesinaction.org; (213) 252-4411. 


(Connie Acosta is a Board member of the Echo Park Neighborhood Council (EPNC) and  co-chairs its Planning and Land Use Committee. She is an occasional CityWatch contributor.)