Dozens of tenant activists gathered Saturday outside the Venice location of popular gastropub Wurstküche, chanting “homes not sausages.”
It was the latest picket organized this month by members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, demanding that restaurant owner Tyler Wilson change plans to evict the tenants of an unassuming residence that sits directly behind his Lincoln Boulevard eatery.
“We’re going to stay here until he sits down with us and decides to drop the eviction,” tenant Patricia Sanchez said Saturday.
“Yuppies are ruining Venice,” a demonstrator shouted at puzzled patrons.
Property records show a trust controlled by Wilson paid $1.5 million for the property in April. Two months later, Sanchez says she received word that she would have to move out of her rent-controlled home within a year.
“It’s very stressful,” she tells Curbed, speaking through a translator. “There’s no place nearby that I can afford.”
Wilson says he’ll be sorry to see Sanchez go, but that the property has become too expensive to maintain, and he’s not interested in the rental business.
“The fact that she can’t find housing—I feel for her,” he told Curbed in a phone call. “She’s a sweet, nice person. I just don’t want to have a tenant. I don’t want to be a landlord.”
Tenants like Sanchez, who live in units covered by Los Angeles’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, are generally protected from being evicted if they haven’t violated the terms of their lease. But California’s Ellis Act gives landlords the opportunity to clear residents out of their buildings if they are leaving the rental business.
Records show Wilson notified the city’s housing department in June that he planned to withdraw the home where Sanchez lives from the rental market.
According to the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenant advocacy group, landlords have used the 1980s law to pull more than 24,000 rent-controlled units from LA’s rental market since 2001.
Given that Ellis Act evictions are relatively common, Wilson says he feels unfairly targeted by the protests.
“The way people are talking about me is pretty gross,” he says. “My staff is literally being berated... my wife refused to stay at our house because of the things that were being said online.”
Tenants Union member Mai Llorens, who helped to organize the campaign against the eviction, says demonstrating in front of Wilson’s business is a strategy designed to pressure him to sit down with Sanchez to talk about ways she and her family might remain in their home.
Sanchez tells Curbed she’s lived in the small two-unit property since 1996 and that she worries about having to leave Venice, where her daughter goes to high school. She says her son has autism and pancreatic issues, and that being close to UCLA Medical Center is a key part of keeping him healthy.
Sanchez says she’d like to ask Wilson why he bought the residence where she lives.
“He knew before buying there’s a family living here for 20 years,” she says. “He shouldn’t buy if it means evicting families.”
But Wilson points out he’s within his rights as a property owner to do with the home as he sees fit.
“I bought a house, and I want to use it,” he says. “That’s really what it comes down to.”
Wilson tells Curbed he hasn’t decided yet what to do with the property, but has no plans at this point to redevelop the site. He says he decided to buy the residence after hearing rumors that a developer had plans to replace it with a small apartment complex.
“I didn’t really want to have a neighbor that was four or six units,” says Wilson. “The area is pretty full as it is.”
Llorens says members of the Tenants Union have contacted Wilson to arrange a meeting but haven’t yet heard back. In the mean time, she says the group is using Sanchez’s case to draw the attention of Westside residents to the Ellis Act, which they are fighting to repeal.
Renter advocates have long argued that the bill weakens rent control laws aimed at keeping homes affordable for long-time tenants.
“Anyone who rents is in danger because of the Ellis Act,” she told the small crowd gathered outside of Wurstküche Saturday.