Los Angeles: Tenants Union and Activists Stop Illegal Evictions

Photo: Community support shows up for a second time on June 4 to defend elderly tenants under threat of eviction near Silver Lake.

By Felipe Vera

In the past two weeks, Los Angeles communities have resisted numerous attempts at illegal evictions by local landlords, many led by the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) as part of their anti-eviction campaign.

The current economic and health crises have not stopped LA landlords from trying to kick tenants out of their homes. Two weeks ago in South Central, the local LATU chapter organized a rapid response team to prevent a tenant named Claudia from being evicted.

Claudia had recently contracted COVID-19, and the property manager was using her illness as a reason to evict her. Management uninstalled her toilet and shut off her electricity as ways to get her to vacate.

In response, community members showed up in support, bringing Claudia food. LATU and supporters of Defend Boyle Heights (DBH) took furniture that had been removed back into her apartment.

The following day on May 27, another illegal eviction was attempted in South Central. This particular property manager changed the locks on the tenants, calling them squatters. The manager had also piled all the tenant’s belongings on the sidewalk and called in a work crew to weld metal bars on the windows.

As the crew was welding, police began to line up blocking the front gate. After the police left, the head of the work crew continued to block the entrance. Activists developed a plan to distract attention at the front of gate and sweep round the back. Those who had arrived in protest began chanting, “the working class is not alone! Let Darlene back in her home.”

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When the working class fights back we win!

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One supporter of DBH spoke with the work crew, agitating on why it was necessary to stand in solidarity with the tenants. Workers unplugged their equipment and left angry at the head of the crew, saying they wouldn’t stay. As the head of the work crew was still blocking the entrance, keeping one of his own workers inside, DBH members had already entered the back of the home by hitting loose bolts in the back door to get in.

The worker inside was reasoned with and the front door opened. The head of the work crew had no choice but to leave as he was surrounded. He called the police, but community members and activists agitated against them as they arrived. Others continued moving furniture and belongings over the gate through the back door.

After a half hour confrontation with police, a lawyer supporting LATU was able to successfully make the case that the tenant could stay. This couldn’t have been done without the militancy of the masses and the support of the community.

After the police left, members of DBH put the door back on its hinges and changed the front door locks, handing Darlene the keys. Signs were posted up around the house stating, “Protected By DBH” and “Combat and Resist Slumlords.”

Another eviction was attempted on May 29 in the neighborhood of Mission Hills. The tenant,  Kaotar, had previously been in a relationship with the son of landlord, Charles Hines, and had endured years of domestic violence.

Activists in front of Kaotar’s home

After filing a restraining order against him, she was met with a 60-day no-fault eviction notice and locked doors on Mother’s Day. The landlord had also shut off her utilities and removed the toilet.

On May 29, activists used power tools to break her in and broke down doors. Many of the neighbors were not supportive, but Kaotar still had the support of several LATU chapters, organizations like Defend Boyle Heights, and lawyers. DBH members and activists in the East Hollywood and North Hollywood locals barricaded themselves inside.

At first, two police officers arrived and later eight squad cars showed up in riot gear. Faced with community and legal support, however, the police had no choice but to leave and Kaotar was able to stay in her home.

Activists fend off police at Kaotar’s home

On June 2, near the community of Silver Lake, a group of tenants who had previously fought off an eviction were met with management company Triwest Development wanting to tear down their garages in order to build two more units.

Many of the tenants have been living there for over 20 years and are elderly. Yet a representative of Triwest, Diana Rodas, warned tenants to have all their belongings out of the garage. Activists and community members came together making banners and signs, and Diana showed up in her Mercedes intimidated, telling tenants opportunistically that they weren’t social distancing.

Activists and community members defend elderly tenants near Silver Lake

The following day, the manager left a 24-hour notice that they would enter and inspect the premises, meaning if tenants did not comply they would receive a three-day notice to vacate.

On June 4, community support showed up once again. Diana was in the area and it was stated that she had materials to demolish the garages and begin construction. One of the tenants decided to march up to her since she was parked at a distance and about 20 others followed. Activists looked through the windows of the vehicle and saw three day notices printed. She called police and claimed that people jumped on her vehicle when people on the ground have verified that this is not true. She had to be escorted by police to inspect the garages and three squad cars showed up.

For over two weeks, LATU, DBH, and community members have demonstrated how to confront slumlords and defend tenants. Bourgeois moratoriums on evictions can’t be counted on to defend tenants, and it’s only through organized resistance that people can fight back against parasitic landlords.