TENANTS’ RIGHTS - Imagine what it would have been like to live through the recent series of torrential downpours with a roof that couldn’t keep the rain out. Well, the tenants at 3218 Sunset don’t have to imagine. They know from experience. Earlier this year, the owners of the building had the shingles removed from the roof, leaving nothing more than a thin sheet of plastic to cover the 2x4s and the drywall underneath. As LA was hit by a new series of atmospheric rivers, tenants had their belongings drenched. A news crew from Telemundo captured images of water streaming from the building’s ceilings.
But this isn’t the only challenge the tenants at 3218 Sunset have had to deal with. The problems began not long after their rent-stabilized building was sold to a new owner back in 2022. Technically, the new owner is Sunset Junior, LLC, but the parent company is RYDA Ventures, LLC, a real estate development company. They’ve bought a number of properties in Silverlake over the past few years. Their web site says they’re creating space for communities to flourish, but the tenants at 3218 Sunset have a different view.
The new owners offered the residents a cash-for-keys buyout, but few tenants accepted. According to tenant Jesse Barboza, after the cash-for-keys payouts were rejected by most of the building’s occupants, a campaign of harassment began, with the goal of forcing the remaining tenants out. Construction crews are on-site most days, hammering, cutting holes in walls and playing loud music. The building’s water and power are frequently cut off for hours at a time. The new owners demanded that the tenants remove the air conditioning units that many of them had installed in their windows, making some of the units unbearably hot. The owners even served a cease-and-desist notice to force Barboza to take Halloween decorations off his door.
The tenants contacted the City of LA about these issues, but the City’s response hasn’t resolved the problems. According to Barboza, citations were issued for non-permitted work that had been done by the contractors working on the building, but the City declined to impose harsher penalties, giving the owners more time to resolve them. This means that the hammering, the sawing, the loud music and the construction dust are still disrupting the tenants’ lives. The water and power are still going off for hours at a time.
Why are the tenants having to deal with this? The City of LA has approved a Tenant-Anti Harassment Ordinance, which went into effect in August 2021. The ordinance prohibits landlords from interfering with "the peaceful enjoyment, use, possession or occupancy of any premises by the lawful lessee or tenant of such premises either by threat, fraud, intimidation, coercion, duress, or by the maintenance or toleration of a public nuisance, or by cutting off heat, light, water, fuel or free communication". The activities of the construction crews on the site are clearly violating the provisions of the ordinance. How far does this have to go before the City takes meaningful action?
This isn’t a new story. For years now, real estate investors have been buying rent-stabilized buildings and then pressuring the tenants to leave so the rents can be raised. The City of LA has passed a number of ordinances that were supposed to rein in this problem, but if the ordinances aren’t enforced, what good are they? The tenants at 3218 Sunset are dealing with serious habitability issues. They’re doing their best to hang on, but they need help. The City of LA needs to start taking their plight seriously. The City needs to start enforcing the law.
(Casey Maddren is President of United Neighborhoods for Los Angeles (UN4LA [www.un4la.com]), and a CityWatch contributor.)