VOICES— The residents of 5110 and 5120 W. Washington Blvd (90016), a former motel built in 1946 and illegally converted to residential housing in recent years, received notices on May 29, 2020, that they had 30 days to vacate the premises.
No matter that they had violated no laws; no matter that the building is barely in habitable condition (and many units cannot be lived in); and no matter that eviction courts have remained closed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and there was no court in which to file these supposed evictions. The landlord, Ali Ketabchi operating as 5110 WASHINGTON LLC and 5120 WASHINGTON LLC, respectively, already has become quite comfortable with dishonesty.
Tenants in units considered part of the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance can only be evicted for specific reasons and in many cases must be paid relocation fees. The apartments on W. Washington Blvd are currently illegal, because they meet the qualifications of the RSO yet are not registered or rented as such in an attempt to deny these tenants crucial protections against sudden eviction. These Angelenos are not motel guests: they are multi-year residents and these notices to vacate were a scam, meant to intimidate the low-income, Black and Brown residents into leaving their homes and their neighborhood.
Owner of 23 other properties in the city, Ali Ketabchi never intended to play by the rules and provide decent housing to the letter of the law. Illustrating the very definition of “slumlord,” 5110 and 5120 W. Washington Blvd are home to pregnant tenants forced to live with overwhelming amounts of mold on the bathrooms walls, units without any kitchens or kitchenettes (and a common kitchen no one can access), dangerously exposed wires, leaking ceilings, no smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, and hastily boarded up empty units—vacated by former residents who were conned by the landlord’s fake eviction notices—open to infestation
and sharing common walls with apartments where children sleep. The building is in such terrible shape that the L.A. Department of Building and Safety issued orders to comply in January 2019 and April 2019, and then filed suit against the landlord. The day of a scheduled hearing, May 29, 2020, was the same day that the tenants received their sham eviction notices. On June 29, Ketabchi filed for a demolition permit, intending to take advantage of the city’s lax oversight by kicking the tenants out quickly from the illegally rented units and demolishing the building and all evidence of his culpability. The landlord even sent someone impersonating a police officer to threaten the residents and scare them into fleeing this purposefully distressed property. And why would Ketabchi let the building fall into disrepair? On May 18, 2020, plans were submitted for a five-story, mixed-use development on both of the lots.
Thankfully, the tenants of W. Washington Blvd spotted members of the Mid-City Local of the L.A. Tenants Union (LATU) doing community outreach and learned of their rights. They have filed dozens of complaints with the Housing and Community Investment Department (HCID), and are working with tenant organizers and a solidarity attorney to prove that the building falls under the RSO, thus entitling them to the same protections and right to relocation fees should the building remain uninhabitable. Angelenos who live in unpermitted units rented out by unscrupulous landlords are entitled to protections per the RSO’s 2017 amendment, ord. 184822—which also means that these tenants cannot be evicted for no reason. The tenants now know that they do not owe the landlord any money because rent cannot be collected on illegal units. (Even if the units were already under RSO, they would not have owed rent during the state of emergency; and even if the landlord swooped in and repaired all that’s needed, the units are still illegal.) Ali Ketabchi knows all of this. He was hoping to pull the wool over the tenants’ and the city’s eyes to simply force everyone out into the street in the midst of an unprecedented public health emergency and housing affordability crisis. He has even had the gall to send residents notices about back rent while attempting to demolish their homes.
Thanks to the coordination of the LATU Mid-City Local, investigators from HCID recently have acknowledged the RSO qualifications of the building and ordered Ketabchi not to collect rent on substandard units. This is just one step toward righting the many wrongs at 5110 and 5120 W. Washington Blvd, as the landlord flagrantly continues to ignore HCID’s demands and repeatedly pressures the tenants for the rent they do not owe as of this writing.
(The Los Angeles Tenants Union is comprised of a diverse group of residents from neighborhoods across the city coming together to build a movement that fights against displacement and social cleansing and demands the human right to housing for all. Established in 2015, we have over a dozen chapters across the city of L.A. and have co-founded tenant unions in other cities in the U.S.)