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More than 80 tenants launch multi-building rent strike in Westlake

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Residents say stiff rent increases are unfair

Tenants rally Saturday in front of the three buildings at 131, 143, and 171 Burlington Avenue.
Photo by Elijah Chiland

In the face of a recent round of rent hikes, tenants at a cluster of apartment buildings in Westlake have launched a large-scale rent strike, demanding the right to collectively bargain a new lease agreement with their landlord.

At a rally Saturday, resident Yesenia Yanez said that many tenants have recently been hit with price increases of $250 or more for their units. Because the three Burlington Avenue buildings were built in the 1980s, they are not subject to the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which applies to units constructed prior to October 1978.

In addition to the rent increases, tenants say they are living with pest problems, mold, a lack of hot water, and deferred maintenance. Resident Robert Rodriguez, who uses a wheelchair, says the elevator in his complex was out of order for nearly two months.

Housing advocates working with the tenants also say residents have been asked to cover costs of repairs to the building.

In March, tenants organized a renters union and 36 members stopped paying rent. All have now received unlawful detainer notices, according to Elena I. Popp, executive director of the Eviction Defense Network, the nonprofit legal organization representing the tenants.

Popp says that 48 additional tenants began withholding rent checks earlier this month, instead depositing them into a trust account managed by the EDN. She expects that more may also officially join the rent strike this week.

Lisa Ehrlich-Chupack, an attorney representing landlord Donald Crasnick, declined to comment.

Multiple residents said Saturday that they were inspired by the success of renters at a Boyle Heights apartment complex close to Mariachi Plaza, where residents successfully negotiated new lease agreements and collective bargaining rights for their renters union after a rent strike that lasted nearly a year.

Popp, who is also working with striking renters at another complex on Exposition Boulevard, says these collective actions on the part of tenants are part of a broader struggle to fight back against rising housing costs in Los Angeles and beyond.

“They are part of a statewide movement to stop displacement ... and to strengthen rent control so that tenants are not at the whims of landlord greed and shifts in the economy,” Popp says.

Members of the LA Tenants Union joined the Burlington Avenue renters Saturday, carrying signs calling for the repeal of the Costa Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which limits the ability of California cities to impose rent control restrictions on property owners.

Los Angeles tenant advocates, along with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, are now gathering petition signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would strike down the bill.