David and Goliath Court Battle Rages … Westlake District Tenants Continue Rent Strike

FIGHTING FOR TENANTS’ RIGHTS-Since March of this year, a bitter battle that can only be described as a modern-day David and Goliath, has been unfolding in the Westlake Community of Los Angeles.

For over a year, 86 tenants of the Burlington Apartments have refused to pay rent until their living conditions are improved. These tenants took a stand against their landlord, beginning what has now become the largest rent strike in Los Angeles history. 

After enduring years of poor treatment, existing under what can only be described as “deplorable living conditions” along with rent hikes of about 30 percent each month, the tenants who were spread across three buildings in the Westlake District, decided to fight back. They took a stand against their landlords, Donald Crasnick and his attorney Lisa Ehrlich, by joining the LA Tenants Union who teamed them with the Eviction Defense Network and Activist Lawyer Jon Naudi to reclaim their rights -- and their homes. 

According to court documents, the living conditions were “not worth the cost of rent,” as decided by one jury that awarded the tenants the right to pay $1 a month rent due to the horrid living conditions. Evidence and testimony described leaky sewage that at times dripped on to tenants as they walked in common areas of the building. The sewage also pooled in the parking garage, sometimes as high as four inches. Tenants testified about walking through feces and urine that would track into their vehicles and homes. One tenant who worked at a bank said she would smell like feces and urine at work. 

In court documents, several tenants complained about the pigeons occupying the courtyard whose feces had covered the area for years. That courtyard has since been cleaned but you can see the damage across it due to years of neglect. Testimony also revealed a severe rat and roach infestation that the landlord denied. The buildings’ pest control records tell another story. Over the last five years, there were over 260 pest control service visits to Burlington apartments, averaging out to one a week. The building manager denies the infestation claims but could not answer why their office was treated for pests as well.

During one of the hearings, another tenant’s testimony painted a picture of ceilings caving in and presented video evidence that showed water pouring through overhead light fixtures. Naudi, the activist attorney representing the tenants, explained to us the importance of the case: “What this case is about is community standards. The people in this building have said enough is enough and if you’re going to be a landlord and make profits off people in our community you're going to provide a standard of living that we agree everyone should have.” 

Out of the 86 lawsuits, six of them have already gone to trial. Three of them were won by the tenants and the other three by the landlord. All six cases have been appealed by the losing side with 80 others still awaiting trial. With the upcoming vote on Proposition 10 and similar lawsuits being brought across the city, this case is illuminating a citywide issue -- the abuse of power by landlords. This lawsuit could go on for years to come, serving as a warning to other potential abusers that tenants across the city will no longer accept such deplorable treatment. 

We went by the leasing office for a statement from the property manager but were rushed out of the building immediately. The next case it set for trial next month. This fight shouldgo on for years.

 

(Adrienne Nicole Edwards is a community activist and a member of the NC Budget Advocate Committee.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.