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Jury sides with East Los Angeles family who refused to pay excessive rent increase

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The rent shot up 63 percent

For years now, we’ve reported on discouragingly steep rent increases across Los Angeles.

Here’s some news likely to make tenants across the region cheer: A jury has sided with a family from East LA who refused to pay rent when it catapulted 63 percent to $2,000 per month. That means the family can't be evicted from their two-bedroom apartment—at least not right now.

The jury found the increase wasn’t justified because of the unit’s condition, which it deemed "uninhabitable." Not only was the increase excessive, court documents provided by the family’s attorney show the jury determined $1,050 would actually be reasonable. That’s $200 less than what the tenants, Roberto Perez and Carolina Rodriguez, were charged prior the increase, which went into effect in April.

So that's how much they'll pay going forward until the building's owner, Winstar Properties, Inc., repairs the place. The attorney representing Winstar did not return a message seeking comment.

"We have a lot of roaches. Some of our doors are practically falling down ... it was 1,2,3,4,5, like 8 outlets were messed up, my cabinets in my kitchen were falling apart, the rug is old, my walls were peeling. They never did any maintenance," Rodriguez said. "The floor in the restroom is soft, it feels like one of these days you’re going to sink in."

It's up to a judge to determine the types of upgrades that need to be made.

But for Perez and Rodriguez, this story might not have a happy ending. They owe back rent (at the $1,050 price) for not paying since May. And, after the unit is fixed, the landlord is allowed to increase rent, according to Grynberg.

"The real trick is challenging the rent increase so that we eliminate it permanently," he said. Grynberg is attempting to do that in federal court with a lawsuit accusing Winstar of violating the Federal Fair Housing Act. The suit alleges the company only served rent increase notices to tenants who were born outside the U.S.

Rodriguez, 43, said if she has to pay $2,000 per month, she'll relocate her family to Las Vegas. The thought of leaving Los Angeles makes her sad, she said, because she's lived here her entire life. But in Vegas, she's finding houses for rent for $1,050. She's stumbled upon some one-bedrooms and two-bedrooms in LA for that price, but, "I have six children and nobody wants to rent to me."