Tenants on a rent strike in the Westlake area, known as the Burlington Unidos, thought their fight was over.
At the end of August, building owner Lisa Ehrlich announced she would drop all remaining unlawful detainer cases against the tenants, and the Burlington Unidos declared a victory.
But since then, at least 16 new unlawful detainer cases have been filed against tenants accused of not paying their rent or housing occupants who aren’t on leases, according to a spokesperson for FML Management.
The cases are adding to confusion among some tenants who say they are unsure what their obligations are now that the strike has ended.
Tenants came together in the spring after learning their rent would jump by at least $250 more per month. They say they can’t afford the increase and have argued that it isn’t justified, because their apartments are infested with rodents and mold, and the building’s sewage pipes leak.
The LA Tenants Union signed on to help the tenants organize a rent strike, staging protests at the homes of the landlord and elected officials.
Elena Popp, attorney for the Burlington Unidos, says three of the new cases were filed for non-payment of rent, after some tenants “did not realize the strike was over.”
“Twenty-four families have household members that are not on the lease,” said Popp, who represents the two dozen families. “These are primarily children born in the unit.”
“It also includes many cases where the manager did not put the wife and, or a child that was an original occupant on the lease,” she says.
FML Management Co. says that since the strike ended this summer, tenants from more than 40 of the units have either been evicted, moved out, paid all of their back rent with increases, or have joined payment plans to pay any rent owed.
“The rent strike by tenant activists is a failure,” says Robert Thaler, a spokesperson for FML Management Co.
Thaler says he and other company officials feel “badly” for tenants who were “misled” by the union and its “activist propaganda.”
Alba Arevalo, a leading member of the Burlington Unidos, faced an unlawful detainer case, but it was dropped. Now she is trying to help those with new cases against them.
“That tenants are not allowed to have extra inhabitants is a lie, because there are many people in the buildings who weren’t part of the rent strike and who house extra tenants, but [Ehrlich] doesn’t say anything to them,” Arevalo said, speaking in Spanish.
“We don’t really know what happened or what is going to happen, because until now [Popp] hasn’t given us any paperwork from the courts that says ‘your cases are closed,’” she said. “We only have paperwork that [Ehrlich] has sent us.”
Arevalo says she has not paid any of the rent she withheld during the strike and was told by Popp and her team that once the cases were dismissed she was no longer required to.
Since the original cases were dropped, weekly meetings among attorneys, the LA Tenants Union, and the Burlington Unidos have stopped, leaving some tenants to think the union was no longer helping them.
Organizer Trinidad Ruiz says the LA Tenants Union has not abandoned the tenants and attributes the decrease in activity to the group’s focus on trying to pass Proposition 10.
That measure would have potentially allowed cities such as Los Angeles to expand rent control to newer buildings like these. But it was defeated by California voters earlier this month.
“It’s been maybe a month and a half, maybe two, since we’ve met. But no, the fight is not over,” Ruiz said. “Now that Prop. 10 [failed], and the election is over, we can get back to a different fight on a different platform.”
The LA Tenants Union is also at the forefront of organizing with the tenants who live at 117 South Avenue 64. Like the Burlington Unidos, the Highland Park tenants are facing rent increases and “habitability issues.”
Ruiz says the union is planning another meeting with the Burlington Unidos later this month.
“What’s happening is just the lack of protection for tenants, they have no protections without rent control,” says Ruiz. “We tried, we didn’t quite make it, but the struggle continues, and Burlington is not off our radar.”