Help for a rental refugee?
March 29, 2007 9:46 PM   Subscribe

Can anyone provide advice, suggest tenant rights resources, courses of action or even refer a good pro-bono lawyer for a friend of mine who's getting screwed by her landlord during the conversion of her apartment complex from rentals to condos in Studio City, CA?

Everything's being documented on Flickr.

At Christmas, all tenants were given notice that they had 180 days to vacate. CA state law requires (among other things) that the landlord help current tenants find new housing, pay for up to $500 in moving costs and compensate them with $1000 cash. Hers has refused to do any of that.

In February, construction began months early and created many ongoing hazardous living conditions, such as a six-foot deep moat around the building and exposed nests of metal and electrical wires. But even though the management company is blatantly violating their end of the agreement (and breaking the law) and the tenants are dealing with unsafe living conditions, not one of the numerous lawyers they've called will take the case on -- either individually or as a class action suit. They all say that the case would be winnable, but there's no money in it because no one has been seriously injured or killed yet.

Anything y’all can suggest would be greatly appreciated.
posted by zarq to Law & Government (11 answers total)
I assume your friend has ceased paying rent? The first thing I would do is refuse to pay the landlord a dime while continuing to live there.
posted by Justinian at 9:54 PM on March 29, 2007

What about small claims court? You don't need a lawyer for that, and may be able to get a judgment forcing them to pay the $1500 if that really is what CA law says.
posted by willnot at 10:19 PM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: 1. Write a letter to your neighbors informing them of your situation. Take pictures and include them if you like.

2. Contact the Housing (213-367-9411) / Health & Safety Departments and file a complaint. Have them stop by.

3. As a last resort, withhold rent. Document everything. Let him take you to small claims if it gets to that. Try to make sure you are on solid ground before you get an eviction notice from your landlord.

4. Double-check your numbers. I remember I had to vacate an apartment once and the numbers were higher than what you quoted.

5. Once you are out of the apartment and if you still haven't been reimbursed, take them to court.

Some low-income options: Here is contact info for the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles. And here is contact for Neighborhood Legal Services for LA County.
posted by phaedon at 11:02 PM on March 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Try to make sure you are on solid ground before you get an eviction

Well actually that's bullshit talk. If you get an eviction notice, you'll have to answer and go to court.
posted by phaedon at 11:10 PM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: This is different from when I was in the same situation, also in the city of LA (I think Studio City is part of LA, but not certain). There, the new owner had to get everyone sign a paper agreeing to move out for the legal amount owed by law, in order to get the bank to release the loan money he needed.

Everyone but myself signed. I refused, because the law didn't say I needed to sign anything. I ended up getting considerably more than the required amount in return for my signature. (I TOLD everyone else not to sign, but they were worried they wouldn't get the money if they didn't).

IIRC, the city government had an office to handle such things. I would speak to the housing authority for the city. It isn't inconceivable that the situation you describe is a criminal one. Being out of compliance with the law is hazordous to building permits, profesional licensing, and bank relationships of the builder/developer.
posted by Goofyy at 11:28 PM on March 29, 2007

If you "withhold rent," you make it much easier for your landlord to evict you. And in case it's not obvious yet, the landlord is trying to get everyone out. He has to give 180 days notice if he's relocating you because of a condo conversion.

If you don't pay rent, though, he only has to give you 3 days notice - 3 days notice to pay rent or quit. If you don't pay your rent in that 3 day period, you're evictable. He can get the sheriff to dump your ass on the sidewalk, then seize your belongings and change the lock. The faster you're out, the quicker it is to get the remodellers in and the easier it is to show the unit.

So that's a dumbass idea. All it's going to do is play right into the landlord's hand, giving him an unexpected gift that he doesn't deserve.

The landlord knows that he has these tenants over a barrel. They're going to be inconvenienced, they're going to have to leave, and the cost of obtaining legal remedy is far higher than what that remedy would amount to.

If I were them, I'd bow to the inevitable and find a new apartment, the sooner the better. This photo essay is only going to make them bitter. Unless you could talk an L.A. Times or maybe an LA Weekly reporter into getting excited about writing it up as a story, which I doubt.
posted by Protocols of the Elders of Sockpuppetry at 11:48 PM on March 29, 2007

Best answer: PotEoS- That's not how the eviction process works here. The landlord most certainly cannot get the sheriff to dump your ass on the sidewalk and change the lock. It requires a court order and a court hearing. Guess what zarq can do at a court hearing? That's right, he can provide all of the documentation of all the crap going on that he better be keeping.

Eviction is a lengthy process. First, the landlord would have to serve a 3 day pay or quit notice. Then after the 3 days he would have to initiate an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Then zarq could file all sorts of actions to delay the proceedings. And so on.

Yes, withholding rent is drastic. But it is warranted if no other action has resulted in anything. Personally, I'd file a small claims case while refusing to pay rent if what zarq says is 100% factual. I'm not a lawyer, though, and this clearly isn't "legal advice."
posted by Justinian at 11:56 PM on March 29, 2007

Mod note: removed the links -- please put them in your profile if you want people to take a look at them.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:30 AM on March 30, 2007

I assume your friend has ceased paying rent? The first thing I would do is refuse to pay the landlord a dime while continuing to live there.

Do not do that under any circumstances. An attorney can advise you as to how to put the disputed portion of your rent in escrow.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 8:04 AM on March 30, 2007

Best answer: I recently had a situation with a landlord in Los Angeles, and I just wanted to second (third?) the notion that you should NOT stop paying rent. There is no legal protection for you if you just stop paying, though as Saucy Intruder mentioned, there is an escrow system available.

Consult a lawyer, even if you decide to go to small claims. You can't have one with you in court, but mine prepared all my paperwork and helped me with the settlement.

posted by lovetragedy at 8:29 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: Links for further info on the situation and photos can be found in my MeFi profile.

Many, many thanks to everyone who offered advice!
posted by zarq at 3:30 PM on March 30, 2007

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