By Sue Pascoe
A rent dispute led to a tenant demonstration near landlord Lisa Ehrlich’s home in the Palisades Highlands on April 23.
Close to 70 people participated, according to eyewitnesses. The protestors included tenants who live in one of three buildings, located at 131, 143 and 171 S. Burlington Ave. in Westlake, a majority Latino neighborhood sandwiched between Koreatown and Downtown L.A.
Palisades Patrol officer A. Gonzalez spoke to some of the organizers, who told him their landlord was Lisa Ehrlich and that a civil court hearing was to be held on April 25. Tenants told him they had received rent hikes ranging from 25 to 50 percent.
On April 26, the News spoke to Ehrlich, who said that the last rent increase on the units was in 2008 and it was generally less than $100.
She blamed the higher rents on DWP rate increases and the new garbage collection fees. “Fees have tripled,” Ehrlich said, noting that landlords have also been hit with various new garbage surcharges, such as a fee for pressing a button to open a gate.
Ehrlich said that one-bedroom apartments in the complex, which are not under rent control, have stayed steady at $1,050 for the past 10 years. By comparison, market rates for studio apartments in the area rent for $1,200 and a one bedroom is $1,500.
She recently raised rent to $1,300. “We’re trying to keep it affordable,” she said.
According to an April 12 story on Knock-la.com, “The Biggest Rent Strike in L.A. History: Burlington Tenants vs. Slumlord Attorney Lisa Ehrlich” by Jacob Woocher, people in 85 of the 192 units are currently withholding rent.
The tenants have organized and are being assisted by the VyBe chapter of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.
Some tenants have been served eviction notices, and according to Woocher, they are being represented by Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Network.
Ehrlich was asked about complaints that tenants didn’t have hot water, that there were cracks in the walls, and rodents.
She disputed the allegations. “Every time L.A. Housing has come out to check on complaints, they haven’t found any basis for the claims.”
Juanita Robles, the owner of Grey Pacific Housekeeping, has worked for Ehrlich since 2008.
Once someone leaves, “the unit is repainted, tile changed and new carpet put in,” Robles told the News, and then her company does a final deep cleaning before the new tenant moves in.
Robles talked about how some tenants leave their apartments in bad condition. For example, some of the stoves have never been cleaned in the years people have lived in the apartments. “The grease build up from the years is so bad, I have to use a blade to get it off. It’s so dirty it’s nasty.”
Often, the bathroom tubs have to be resurfaced and new tiles installed. Then, “I do a germicidal cleaning,” Robles said.
She disputed the lack-of-hot-water claim. “All the years I’ve worked in those apartments, there has been hot water,” Robles said. “How could you just turn water off in the apartments of a few people? It would have to be off in the entire unit.”
She said she tells her kids, “If you make a mess, you clean it up.” She feels like asking for the same courtesy from tenants. “I gave it to you new, clean and fresh, keep it that way.”
Why would tenants accuse Ehrlich of substandard conditions?
“Habitability claims,” Ehrlich said. “The tenants are being coached by the L.A. Tenants Union to use the press to create awareness of the state repeal of the Costa Hawkins legislation.”
Costa Hawkins, which went into effect in 1995, prohibits cities from capping rent increases for properties built after February of that year.
In Los Angeles, the bill also froze in place the terms of the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, meaning that only buildings constructed prior to October 1978 are subject to rent control.
The Burlington Ave. apartments were built in 1989-90 and are not under rent control.
Costa Hawkins also allows single-family residences that are rent control to be re-listed at market rate prices after tenants move out.
In addition to Palisades Patrol, other security companies responded to residents’ calls starting around 7 p.m. on April 23 about the loud demonstration.
LAPD officers said that because the pro- testors were on a public sidewalk and no one was attempting entry into the gated community, there was no crime. The pro- testors dispersed around 9:30 p.m.
The following night about 7 p.m., about 50 people, mostly families, once again came to the Highlands to protest, according to Palisades Patrol officer Gonzalez. LAPD was called, but had not responded befire the crowd dispersed around 9:15 p.m.