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Westlake landlord says he’ll drop eviction proceedings against tenants on rent strike

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“We want to give every tenant the opportunity to pay their rent and continue living here”

Burlington Unidos members march through Glassell Park on August 22. 
By Christian Monterrosa

A Westlake landlord says he will stop pursuing evictions against tenants in his Burlington Avenue apartments who are on a rent strike. Donald Crasnick announced his decision Friday, bringing a six-month battle over rent increases one step closer to an end.

Crasnick has filed multiple unlawful detainer cases in Los Angeles County Superior Court against tenants who have stopped paying rent. The tenants, who have organized under the name Burlington Unidos, are protesting rent hikes and conditions in their units.

“Today, we dismissed all ongoing eviction cases against existing tenants in the Burlington Apartments, because we want to give every tenant the opportunity to pay their rent and continue living here,” building manager Juan Carlos Perez wrote in a letter distributed Friday to tenants.

The cases he dropped include close to a dozen scheduled for this month, with more pending and many tenants still awaiting their hearings, according to court documents and building managers.

Building managers say more than 60 tenants are still participating in the rent strike.

Robert Thaler, a spokesman for FML Management, a building management company owned by the landlord’s attorney Lisa Ehrlich, says residents who want to say in their apartments will need to “pay September’s rent and remain current going forward.”

“Back rent owed for March through August will be addressed case-by-case with each tenant, but the management company expects tenants will respond positively to this interest-free offer and will make good-faith efforts to pay what they owe over time,” he said.

Thaler also says residents were given “bad advice” from the LA Tenants Union, which helped organize the strike.

“They have not explained that even if a tenant wins in court, they still have to pay back rent, and the increases, to stay,” Thaler said in a statement. “And, if the tenant loses, they are evicted from their home, their personal credit is damaged, and they face a legal judgment for tens of thousands of dollars.”

A family of five was evicted in August after losing their case in court and have been living with neighboring tenants.

Evictions remain in effect for tenants who have already lost their cases, Thaler said.

Managers of the Burlington apartments also created a new website with videos and information that continue to refute claims by the striking tenants that the buildings were in unlivable conditions and ridden with mold, rodents, and pigeon excrement.

“Tenants of the property actually went nine years without a rent increase,” Dana Coronado, a commercial real estate agent, says in a video on the website. “Rents in the building prior to the recent rent increase were $950 for a one bedroom and $1,300 for a two bedroom which is significantly below market rents in the Westlake area.”

Burlington tenant Joana Ochoa has kept receipts for money orders she says she used to pay rent. The receipts show incremental rent increases from $877 in 2010 to $1,054 in January of 2018. When her rent jumped to $1,300 in March, Ochoa joined the rent strike.

She has since attended every protest with her three daughters, including the latest demonstration in front of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell’s home in Glassell Park because he “refused to provide support” for the tenants.

Attorney Elena Popp, who represents the tenants, called the property owner’s decision a “victory.”

“[It] is a clear admission that the conditions at Burlington prior to the strike and during the strike were deplorable and unhealthy,” she said.

Popp says she wants the property owner to negotiate with tenants.

The tenants are now seeking an agreement from Crasnick and Ehrlich to reduce the amount of back rent owed—that would double as acknowledgment that substandard conditions existed, Popp says—and a “reasonable” rent increase going forward.

“We’re not sure what’s next, but this struggle will continue, because without rent control, the tenants do not have protection from huge rent increases or evictions,” says Jacob Woocher with the LA Tenants Union.

He says it’s important that tenants fight rent increases across Los Angeles.

“Tenants without rent control will not always be successful like the Burlington tenants were,” he said.