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Wed, Feb

Tenants Say Room-For-Rent Scam Left Them Facing Eviction … Predatory Slumlord Disappears

LOS ANGELES

MY TURN—(Jasmyne Cannick is an LA writer and a contributor to CityWatch.) If you ask Vincent Cook about the first 56 years of his life he’d probably tell you his proudest moments were were being handpicked by the late comedian Richard Pryor and singer Luther Vandross to be their opening acts during their respective tours. But mention former U.S. President Bill Clinton and Cook lights up and smiles as he recounts opening for Clinton during one of his California Primary appearances.

Today, sitting on on an old rickety porch swing in front of a dilapidated boarding home in South Los Angeles, the words don’t flow as easily for Cook who, as an accomplished comedian and actor, was never at a loss for words.  But after a debilitating stroke in 2014, he’s never been the same.

“I’m a wild–I’m a wild–wow you look at me and say ‘he’s old!’  I am 56 years old.”

Cook is one of about a dozen tenants living in nearly 4,600 square foot home on the border of Inglewood in the city of Los Angeles that’s been abandoned by the property manager after she failed to pay rent causing a court to order her eviction.

Facing an inevitable eviction after falling prey to a room-for-rent scam, nearly all of the tenants in this home–that was sold to them as transitional housing–are on SSI or disability benefits and public assistance–most receiving just $221 per month. The rent?  Well the tenants say that depends on how much you are receiving each month.

According to the tenants, residents receiving General Relief pay between $175 to $200 of their $221 monthly benefits for a bed bug infested mattress on the floor in a shared room. The accommodations they say for those who receive more money isn’t any better–they’re just charged more for it.  Cook pays $350 to sleep on the floor of a room he shares with a stranger.

And while it may sound like a good deal to avoid being unsheltered, the house that recently served as home to as many as 40 men and women has no heat and only one working toilet and shower out of 4 full bathrooms. Water constantly leaks downstairs into the living room and every room in the house has signs (and smells) of mold.  And then there are the broken windows, rats, roaches, mold, plumbing issues, bed bugs and stray cats.

Still, it’s seen as a deal for those who can no longer afford to rent an apartment in sixth most expensive rental market in the U.S. where in 2017 the median price for  a one-bedroom in Los Angeles was $2,077 while for a two-bedroom it was $3,099.

And even though he is on the verge of being homeless, Vincent Cook is the house’s most optimistic resident believing that he can get back to where he was at the height of his career. (Read the rest of this gripping story.) 

-cw