LOS ANGELES (CN) – After refusing to pay rent this summer to protest rent hikes by new landlords, tenants of an apartment in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights told a judge Wednesday the subsequent eviction notices amounted to retaliation.
Seven tenants received 60-day eviction notices this past June after refusing to pay rent to protest hikes of up to $800 per month. The apartment complex on East Second Street is walking distance from Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights, where some tenants work as mariachis.
Attorneys with the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action said the eviction notices were retaliation by the new property’s owner, Frank Turner. Tenants have been protesting the rent hikes since receiving notice in January 2017, when they learned Crescent Canyon Management purchased the property.
The tenants’ attorney Noah Grynberg told LA County Superior Court Judge Lisa Sepe-Wiesenfeld the 60-day notice said the owner of the property did not want to rent to the tenants after they refused to pay the new rates. Weeks later, the tenants received a 3-day notice to pay their rent or get out, Grynberg said.
“That is an act against their free speech,” said Grynberg, who filed an anti-SLAPP motion on behalf of the tenants to strike the eviction action.
Crescent Canyon Management’s attorney Richard Daggenhurst with Felman Daggenhurst declined to comment after the hearing. But he told the judge the tenants were served eviction notices not because of their protest, but because they refused to pay their rent.
“There have been a lot of false statements on the 60-day notice. The tenants were given multiple chances to pay the rent increase and given notice by the property management company,” Daggenhurst said.
“If this was just about the rent increase then why not just serve a 3-day notice?” Judge Sepe-Wiesenfeld asked.
Daggenhurst did not immediately answer the judge, but said later in the hearing the tenants’ logic – that the eviction notices infringed their free-speech rights – didn’t apply here because they refused to pay rent in the first place.
Sepe-Wiesenfeld said she didn’t expect to rule on the tenants’ motion before Jan. 1.
About 70 people attended the hearing in Dept. 94 eviction court at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse to support the tenants, with many wearing red to show their solidarity.
Tenant Enrique Valdivia plays the vihuela, a guitar-shaped instrument that is a staple in mariachi groups. He has lived at the East Second Street apartments for 22 years and has made a living as a mariachi for the last 30 years.
“Always in Los Angeles, and always in Boyle Heights,” Valdivia said outside the courtroom.
Melissa Reyes, 23, lives with her parents and younger brother at the complex in a one-bedroom apartment. Their rent increased by $500, and after they refused to pay were served an eviction notice over the summer.
Reyes wore red along with her younger brother. Gentrification has swept through East Los Angeles in neighborhoods like Echo Park and Highland Park, where development has resulted in rent hikes.
“Boyle Heights is different, because people are fighting back. This whole year has seemed to have lit a spark with the neighborhood,” Reyes said.