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Tenants sue Historic Filipinotown apartment building owner for harassment

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The long-term, low-income residents say they're being forced out    

240 N. Robinson Street.
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Eight families who live in an eight-unit apartment building in Historic Filipinotown are suing the building's owner, alleging that it is harassing tenants to get them to leave so that it can renovate the building for sale, in violation of city ordinances.

The civil suit was filed March 22 in Los Angeles County Superior Court against BRE Investment LLC; its owner, David Bramante; and several other related defendants by the Inner City Law Center and attorneys representing the families who rent in the building. The tenants are characterized as long-term or low-income tenants, many of whom are retired, elderly, disabled or monolingual Spanish speakers.

The building at 240 North Robinson Street sits just a couple of blocks east of where Temple Street and Silver Lake Boulevard meet.

The suit argues that Bramante and his company have ignored requirements under LA's rent stabilization ordinance and other laws to relocate the building’s tenants under a tenant habitability plan, which was implemented in March 2016 under the building's previous owner to relocate tenants during temporary construction work that year.

“The complaint provides that the tenant habitability plan documents that their landlord provided to the Housing and Community Investment Department of Los Angeles (HCIDLA) proposed relocating tenants to non-existent housing,” said Philip M. Kelly, a partner at Kendall Brill & Kelly and lawyer representing the plaintiffs, in a statement.

“The proposed relocation address for an 80-year-old tenant who had lived in the building for 31 years was the location of a local cemetery. This is clearly in violation of the ordinance,” Kelly added.

Bramante's company, which previously managed the building, acquired it in April 2016 for $1.25 million and sought to implement the tenant habitability plan, the plaintiffs allege. Between March 2016 and December 2016, Bramante's company and the previous owners filed evictions against half the tenants living in the building, the plaintiffs claim.

For his part, Bramante told Curbed that he has not seen the lawsuit yet but denied the allegations and said his company is following the law. He blamed the cemetery relocation announcement on an error by the building's previous owner—a mistake of which he was not aware—and added that it was corrected a year ago.

Bramante also denied harassing any tenants. "No, that's not true at all," he said. "I've never harassed any tenants. I've been in real estate since 1993. ... I have zero track record for harassing or discriminating against my tenants. We have a very stellar track record."

The suit seeks to stop any evictions or forced relocation of tenants, asks that Bramante and his company follow the law and correct any uninhabitable conditions, and seeks damages and compensation for tenants, among other things.

For now, the tenants remain in the building, though there are multiple evictions pending, Inner City Law Center lawyer David Aigboboh told Curbed.

Bramante acknowledged showing up on March 23 with moving trucks to assist tenants in two of the units to relocate to alternative housing temporarily under the tenant habitability plan (at Bramante's expense), so that his company could renovate the units, but said the tenants (assisted by the Inner City Law Center and LA Tenants Union) declined to leave.

Aigboboh characterized the attempted move as a "forcible eviction," which Bramante denied.

There is no construction currently underway at the building, except for "removal of a 5-by-5-foot area of drywall in one of the walls in a tenant’s apartment," which took place late last year, Aigboboh added. BRE hasn't fixed it yet; the city inspected the unit in February and ordered repairs be completed.

Bramante acknowledged that the drywall was removed because of water damage but said repairs have not been completed because the tenant declined to move out of the apartment for the time required to remediate mold in the apartment.