Chinatown tenants move to protect their affordable housing; landlord attempts to evict more than 50 households and avoid state notice requirements
LOS ANGELES, June 18, 2019 — Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), National Housing Law Project (NHLP), and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed a lawsuit on behalf of a group of low-income tenants whose landlord is threatening to evict the majority of tenants by July 31, after failing to comply with California law protecting tenants in affordable housing. LAFLA is demanding that the property owner rescind recent eviction notices served on June 1 and issue new, compliant 12- and six-month notices under California’s state preservation notice law, which would extend affordable rents for at least an additional year.
Hillside Villa, a 124-unit property in the heart of Chinatown, has offered affordable rent for hundreds of low-income families since its construction in the 1980s. Many residents are families with young children, seniors, people with disabilities, or people with limited English proficiency. After 30 years, the property’s affordability restrictions expired in late 2018, clearing the way for the property owner—developer Thomas Botz—to attempt to charge market-rate rents. In 2018, he issued notices to the tenants stating that, as of June 1, rents will steeply increase: in one case, by more than 92%, or over $1,500 per month. Renters who did not agree to pay the higher rates received 60-day notices terminating their tenancies effective June 1. Under the past affordability restrictions, tenants’ rents were as low as $600–$800 per month.
In response, a number of the renters formed the Hillside Villa Tenants Association—one of the plaintiffs in the case. Over the past month, LAFLA has engaged in extensive advocacy on behalf of the tenants and succeeded in compelling the landlord to rescind April eviction notices and hold off on rent increases in June. However, on June 1, the landlord again served 60-day notices to terminate tenancy to at least 59 households at the property—and refused to issue legally-required notices. The plaintiffs in the case are demanding that the landlord withdraw the June 1 eviction notices and restart the preservation notice process, which would extend affordable rents for another year and allow time for the tenant association and local public entities to find options to keep the building affordable into the future. The lawsuit specifically targets the 12- and six-month notices of termination of the affordability restrictions, which have not been served in a timely or compliant manner to either tenants or public entities.
“The residents of Hillside Villa are sending a clear and powerful message to their landlord: You can’t push us out of our homes when you’ve violated the law,” said Natalie Minev, LAFLA’s lead counsel on the case. “These tenants have lived in this community for decades and are deeply invested in protecting their homes and the legal rights of their neighbors.”
“The purpose of the state preservation notice law is to provide tenants and local agencies the detailed information they need to preserve at-risk affordable housing,” said Kara Brodfuehrer, Staff Attorney with National Housing Law Project. “When landlords don’t comply with the requirements of the notice law, critical opportunities are lost to potentially extend affordability for current and future tenants.”
According to Los Angeles Councilman Gil Cedillo, whose district includes Chinatown: “I have four main goals that the tenants of Hillside Villa Apartments are in full agreement and supportive of: 1) No displacement of tenants; 2) No evictions; 3) No rent increases; 4) 10-year deal to protect tenants from paying rent increases. I will use all resources and authority at my disposal to protect tenants and their quality of life.”
“We need a long-term solution that keeps our families in our homes, keeps this building permanently affordable, and keeps Chinatown as a place where working-class people of color can thrive,” shared Rene AlexZander, a resident of Hillside Villa and the president of the Hillside Villa Tenants Association. “While the lawsuit plays out, we will continue to pressure the City of LA to find solutions to keep these families in their homes and ensure the building remains permanently affordable.”
About Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) seeks to achieve equal justice for people living in poverty across Greater Los Angeles. LAFLA changes lives through direct representation, systems change and community empowerment. It has five offices in Los Angeles County, along with four Self-Help Legal Access Centers at area courthouses and three domestic violence clinics to aid survivors.
About National Housing Law Project
National Housing Law Project’s (NHLP’s) mission is to advance housing justice for poor people and communities. NHLP achieves this by strengthening and enforcing the rights of tenants, increasing housing opportunities for underserved communities, and preserving and expanding the nation’s supply of safe and affordable homes. Our organization provides technical assistance and policy support on a range of housing issues to legal services attorneys and other advocates nationwide.