CES and LAFLA Join Together to Win Major Tenants’ Rights Legal Victory Against Sexual Harassment & Discrimination of Tenants Perpetrated by Building Managers
Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) attorneys assisted low-income tenants in successfully fighting back against sexual harassment and discrimination perpetrated by building managers, securing a settlement late in March which delivers monetary compensation for the plaintiffs while ensuring protections for future tenants at the Lafayette Hotel, a rent-controlled residential building offering low rents in the Rampart area of Los Angeles. For nearly two years, senior attorney Fernando Gaytan (photo left), along with co-counsel Christopher Brancart, litigated a hard fought battle to end the harassment of female tenants at the Lafayette.
“Reports of landlords demanding ’sex for rent’ may seem shocking and uncommon to most people,” stated Gaytan, “but for poor and low income tenants, encounters with predatory landlords who take advantage of the economic and social barriers these tenants face is tragically much more common than reported.”
LAFLA’s housing unit launched an extensive investigation after several women from the building stepped forward and described the same pattern of repeated sexual harassment at the hands of management, employees and the owner of the residential hotel. Accounts of harassment included repeated taunting, groping, and quid pro quo in which the women were told their rent would be waived if they acquiesced to demands for sexual favors.
In response to the investigation, several former and current residents stepped forward as witnesses and described similar experiences. For the plaintiffs and several of the witnesses, the Lafayette was their first home after being emancipated from the foster care system or after a period of homelessness.
“Cases involving sexual harassment of tenants highlight how a severe lack of resources can leave tenants vulnerable to multiple forms of abuse by an unscrupulous landlord,” continued Gaytan. “Many low income tenants, especially those who recently left homelessness, are often prime targets of this type of unlawful conduct by landlords, managers and those with power to decide the fate of their homes.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of three women and the tenants’ rights group Coalition for Economic Survival, included claims based on violations of federal and state fair housing laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender. The parties reached a settlement just before a jury trial was to commence. As result, the court has entered a consent decree order which calls for monetary compensation, prevents one set of defendants from ever having any involvement with the Lafayette Hotel and requires owner Balubahai Patel to meet certain training and reporting requirements designed to enforce fair housing obligations.
Mr. Patel, who owns scores of residential properties throughout California, will be required to undergo sexual harassment training and obtain certification in fair housing obligations. He will also be required to demand such training of his employees involved in the operation of each residential property and institute a new written anti-harassment policy at his properties. Tenants of Mr. Patel’s properties must be given a copy of HUD-issued know-your-rights fliers concerning harassment and management must exhibit an informational poster on laws against harassment. Mr. Patel, whose business plan includes leasing his residential buildings to individuals who then act as landlord to the residents, must now also include in future leases a requirement that operators and their employees undergo fair housing training.
The court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the consent decree and defendants will be required to submit certificates of compliance to the court, a key provision, according to Gaytan. “The consent decree entered in this case is a tremendous benefit to the tenants of this building and will have a much broader impact. At each of the over thirty properties owned by the defendant, managers will be asked to provide tenants with informational fliers concerning sexual harassment and fair housing laws and will be required to complete sexual harassment training. This requirement imposed on the owner of multiple properties statewide will cause much needed ’know your rights’ information to reach hundreds of tenants who would otherwise remain isolated.”
Reprinted from “LAFLA Matters,” the newsletter of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Anti-Rent Control, Anti-Tenants’ Rights Forces Line Up Behind Wendy Greuel’s Bid for Los Angeles Mayor
It was nearly two month ago that the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) expressed great concern over LA City Controller and Mayoral Candidate Wendy Greuel’s enthusiastic announcement about receiving the endorsement of the landlord group, Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).
Those concerns has been increased with the announced on Monday that the Central City Association (CCA) has endorsed Wendy Greuel’s bid for Mayor.
The CCA is a business advocacy group that lobbies city and state government to grease the wheels for development in downtown. Besides landlords and developers, it also represents large corporations, such as Chevron, Walmart, Verizon, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Wells Fargo and Bank of America.
The Central City Association has been a consistent opponent of tenants’ rights, rent control and restricting condo conversions that displaces tenants.
Some examples of CCA’s efforts include opposing a temporary rent freeze introduced by LA City Council Member Richard Alarcon that would have given the City Council time to debate potential amendments to the rent control ordinance without saddling LA tenants with more unjust rent increases.
CCA opposed LA City Council Member and Mayoral Candidate Eric Garcetti’s amendment to a local provision of the Ellis Act (state law prohibiting local jurisdictions from preventing landlords from going out of the rent business), which would require developers the choice of constructing a new, rent stabilized building (where rent control would extend to every new unit, regardless of size of demolished building), or replacing the lost rent stabilized units one for one with units that would be affordable to those making 80% of AMI or less, up to 20% of the total building units. It was a provision that CES strongly supported and was passed.
CCA opposed a moratorium on condo conversions and demolitions in Los Angeles. From 2001 to 2007 nearly 15,000 LA rent control units were lost due to condo conversions and demolitions to build new condos. City Council District 2, represented by Wendy Greuel at the time, had the third largest number of rent controlled units lost in the City.
“A moratorium sends absolutely the wrong message at absolutely the wrong time, because the condo market is slowing down significantly,” said Carol Schatz, who heads the CentralCity Association. “And while there may be some projects still in the pipeline, there aren’t that many. It scares investors anytime you talk about a moratorium, and let’s not forget that housing drives the L.A. economy.
CES Executive Director Larry Gross responded, “In other words, CCA was essentially saying when the condo market is hot, it is unfair to destroy pending investments by enacting a moratorium. When the market cools, it is unfair because it will deter the formation of new speculator groups seeking to profit by evicting tenants and eliminating rent-controlled housing.”
Gross observed that, “It appears that Greuel has been able to coalesce the forces that have been at the forefront of the fight to destroy rent control and undermine tenants’ rights behind her mayoral candidacy.”
Besides AAGLA and CCA, the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors Local PAC, the Los Angeles County Federation of Business (Biz Fed), the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Jobs PAC, and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) PAC are all supporting Greuel.
All these endorsements are based on the belief that Greuel will support them on issues of concern to them,” said Gross. “They clearly believe that Wendy Greuel would be a better Mayor for landlords and developers. This is a very important factor that tenants must keep in mind when they cast their ballots for Mayor on May 21, Election Day.”
In addition, homeless advocacy groups, such as LACAN, have been actively opposing the CCA’s “Downtown 2020″ plan, which they state calls for no affordable housing to be built in Downtown, and increased police and criminalization efforts against homeless and poor residents.
CCA was also a key opponent to labor unions and supporters efforts to extend the City’s living wage ordinance to hotels near LAX.
Late on March 18th, a Federal court judge ruled that the Federal Courts had no right to intercede in State court matters (“abstention” doctrine). Thus, the lawsuit filed on behalf of the Coalition for Economic Survival, People Organized for Westside Renewal, Union de Vecinos, the Independent Living Center of Southern California and several impacted individuals to stop the closure and consolidation of Los Angeles County Superior was thrown out.
The judge ruled purely on the issue of abstention. He felt strongly that this was an issue that should go to either State court or the Federal Court of Appeals. But, he did not rule on the merits of our case. As a result, there is strong determination by the attorneys and plaintiffs to continue on.
Our attorneys at the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Western Center on Law and Poverty and the Disability Rights Legal Center are weighing the next step to take. But, there will, most certainly, be a next step!
The courts cannot be allowed to move forward with this court closure and consolidation policy. The impact would be devastating to poor people and people living with disabilities.
As reported in an earlier post (click here to read), we believe this action will also result in a significant increase in unjust and illegal evictions. The courts must not be allowed to slam the door of justice in the face of the people we all serve.
Lawsuit Filed to Stop L.A. County Court Closures That Will Likely Lead to More Unjust and Illegal Evictions
Los Angeles Superior Court’s closure of 21 of its 26 courtrooms for eviction hearings illegally “shuts the courthouse doors on many of the county’s most vulnerable residents” community organizers claim in a federal lawsuit, which CES is a plaintiff in.
The 26 courts where unlawful detainer cases were filed are being reduced to five courts in the downtown Stanley Mosk Courthouse, or in Pasadena, Long Beach, Santa Monica, or Antelope Valley.
In response, the Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, the Western Center on Law and Poverty, and the Disability Rights Legal Center are suing the Los Angeles Superior Court on behalf of the Coalition for Economic Survival, People Organized for Westside Renewal, Union de Vecinos, the Independent Living Center of Southern California and several impacted individuals.
The lawsuit claims the state’s response to its judicial funding crisis violated the Fair Housing Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the First and 14th Amendments.
Facing a $56 million to $85 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year, the closings will include 10 regional courthouses.
Unlawful detainers are filed when a tenant refuses to leave an apartment or leased property after receiving an eviction notice.
The complaint states: “The Court’s plan delivers a devastating blow to individuals with disabilities and violates its obligation to make courts accessible to people with disabilities. Yet, as the Court has acknowledged, it did not even consider the impact of its plan on tenants with disabilities.”
It also states, “The Court’s actions will force thousands of low-income Black, Latino and Asian tenants and tenants with disabilities to spend five hours or more traveling to distant courthouses and back, simply to have their day in court.”
At a March 14th news conference on the steps of the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse, where the lawsuit was filed, CES Executive Director Larry Gross stated, “Unfortunately, the unbalanced scales of justice are being further weighted against low income and working people with this outrageous plan of court house closures and consolidation.”
Joined by other organization plaintiffs and legal service organization attorneys, Gross further said that landlord will have greater incentives to now evict tenants even if there is no basis or legal justification, because chances become high that many of these tenants won’t respond to the eviction notice or will not show up for the hearing, because they have no way to get to court, thus will default and lose there eviction case.
Following the news conference, several blocks away in front of the downtown Stanley Mosk LA County Superior Courthouse, hundreds of others packed the street to protest the court closures. The demonstration was organized by the Service Employees International Union, the ACLU/Southern California and others.
Coalition for Economic Survival Concerned Over Landlord Group Endorsement of Wendy Greuel for LA Mayor
The Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) expressed great concern over LA City Controller and Mayoral Candidate Wendy Greuel’s enthusiastic announcement today about receiving the endorsement of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles (AAGLA).
The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles is one of the key landlord organizations that CES has battled over the years on rent control and tenants’ rights issues.
“AAGLA endorsements are based on the candidates they believe would be more supportive of landlord issues and will vote on bills of concern to them,” said Larry Gross, Executive Director of CES. “They clearly believe that Wendy Greuel is a better candidate for landlords than her opponents. This is a very important factor that tenants should keep in mind when they cast their ballots on Election Day in the Los Angeles Mayoral race.”
Greuel’s news release announcing the AAGLA endorsement states, “I really appreciate this endorsement from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. This endorsement is a reflection of the dynamic alliance of support that my campaign has built across Los Angeles. As Mayor, I plan on working with them to ensure that residents throughout our City have an abundance of affordable housing options and that every Angeleno has a place they can call home.”
“To say AAGLA creates affordable housing is a real misuse of the term,” said Gross. “AAGLA has never provided affordable housing for low-income renters unless forced to do so by inclusionary housing laws. In fact, their efforts to oppose rent control and support the weakening of tenants’ rights are positions that lead to less affordable housing which diminishes the ability of Angelenos, particularly low income and working families, from securing a place they can call home.”
In addition to today’s endorsement, Greuel has a myriad of key business endorsements, including: the Beverly Hills/Greater Los Angeles Association of Realtors Local PAC, the Los Angeles County Federation of Business (Biz Fed), the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce’s Jobs PAC, and the Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) PAC.
“These are all groups that have been at the forefront of the fight to destroy rent control and undermine tenants’ rights. Based on this, we have to warn renters that Wendy Greuel does not appear to be a friend of tenants and we urge that they strongly consider this when they cast their ballot on March 5,” Gross stated.
CES has been attempting to get all LA Mayoral and City Council Candidates to tell voters specifically what they would do, if elected, to protect rent control, prevent tenant displacement and preserve existing affordable housing. It appears, with the AAGLA endorsement, that CES got an answer from Wendy Greuel.
LA City Council District 13 Debate Has Only One Candidate Committing to Protect Rent Controlled Affordable Housing
The Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), one of Los Angeles’ leading tenants’ rights organization, has been highly critical of the field of candidates running for Mayor and City Council in the March 5, 2013 elections. CES’ bone of contention with the candidates is based on their failure to clearly state what they would do, if elected, to ensure tenants’ rights, protect the City’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance and preserve rent controlled and government assisted affordable housing from being demolished and converted to luxury housing.
It was with these concerns that we headed out to a debate between candidates running for the 13th LA City Council District on January 24, sponsored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Chamber Political Action Committee. Given the sponsor, one would rightly think that issues affecting renters and working people would not be a priority for discussion at such a pro-business forum.
It was exactly why we were interested in attending. You get a better picture of who a candidate is by what he or she promises the group they are speaking to and seeking support from.
Sadly, the panel of candidates at the packed Taglyan Cultural Complex on Vine Street in the heart of Hollywood did not include women. Well, except for former 13th District Council Member and Assembly Member Jackie Goldberg, but she was there to moderate the debate.
The six candidates participating were John Choi, a former staff member of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Alex De Ocampo, Senior Director of Saban Family Foundation, Emile Mack, LAFD Assistant Fire Chief, Mitch O’Farrell, Former District Field Director to Councilman Eric Garcetti, Josh Post, State Deputy Attorney General, and Matt Szabo, Former Deputy Chief of Staff for Mayor Villaraigosa.
Many candidates appeared to be pandering to the pro-business crowd with commitments to ensure public safety, fund the fire and police departments, provide tax credits to the movie industry, provide tax breaks to small businesses, doing away with the city’s gross receipt tax and curbing the “aggressiveness” of Superman, Darth Vader, Wonder Woman and the other costumed characters on Hollywood Bl. with many of the candidates stating that their behavior threatens tourism.
The candidates were non-distinguishable for most of the discussion. But, then the question was raised if they supported the Hollywood Community Plan recently approved by the City Council.
The Hollywood Community Plan is controversial for providing the green light for more, and denser, development. Developers and the business community fully support it. Many residents are livid over proposed zoning changes that could make it easier to erect skyscrapers. Mayor Villaraigosa has called it “elegant density.”
Each of the candidates uniformity expressed support for the Hollywood Plan, but one candidate added something that we were hoping to hear.
Matt Szabo stated, “I support density around transit. I think that’s the way of the future. I think we have enough cars on the road. However I am not going to do it at the expense of low income communities, immigrants and seniors that have housing here today. I’m going to be very careful not to lose rent controlled units, affordable units. In fact, I want to use the Community Plan to the greatest extent possible, to preserve and extend affordable housing to the immigrants and seniors and low income communities we have here in Hollywood.”
The only other candidate to mention housing was John Choi, but he only spoke about the need to produce more diverse housing that included workforce, senior and affordable housing. He, disappointingly, did not mention the need to preserve existing affordable housing.
There were some differences between candidates regarding support of the proposed city sales tax increase, also on the March 5 ballot. CES is strongly opposed to this measure as it is a regressive tax that unfairly and disproportionately impacts low income and working people. The sales tax proposal came about after heavy lobbying from the real estate industry which resulted in the city abandoning an original proposal that would have increased the tax on real estate sales and substituted it with the half-cent sales tax hike plan.
All the candidates stated their opposition to the sales tax increase, with Szabo and Mitch O’Farrell calling it a regressive tax that hits the lowest income residents the hardest, with the exception of John Choi. Choi said he supported the sales tax increase as a way to save jobs.
CES encourages voters to urge these candidates to address tenants’ rights and affordable housing issues. After all, the City of Los Angeles is a city of renters — more than 60% of its residents are tenants. One would hope that these candidates will tell voters where they stand on issues which directly affect the majority of Angelinos.
For voters of the 13th Council District this chance is coming up next week. Next Tuesday, January 29th, at 6:30 PM, LA Voice PICO, a CES ally, is hosting a City Council District 13 Candidate Forum at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament, 6657 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood, CA 90028. Affordable housing is a primary issue they will address.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
By Betty Pleasant, Contributing Editor
GRINCHES, ALL OF ’EM — The Coalition for Economic Survival and Larry Gross rode to the rescue of the Cirque du Soleil performers during the holidays when the performers learned that they were losing their jobs, as well as their homes, for the new year. It was unexpectedly announced Dec. 18 that the Cirque du Soleil’s show “Iris” would not run in Los Angeles indefinitely, but would close on Jan. 19. The performers — many of whom were from Russia, Slovakia, Canada, Sweden and other U.S. states — had signed long-term rental leases with landlords, but in addition to facing relocation as a result of the show’s closing, the artists had to deal with landlords who would not let them out of their leases and were demanding thousands of dollars from the dancers, acrobats, contortionists and others in the show. A Cirque du Soleil management official contacted CES for assistance for his soon-to-be-jobless and displaced performers, and CES brought along Bet Tzedek Legal Services, which handled the matter.