3 L.A. Rental Horror Stories
Redevelopment is forcing out Sasha Ali and hundreds of other residents of the Yucca-Argyle apartments in Hollywood.
Photo by Ted Soqui
Los Angeles' low rental vacancy rate — it's less than 3 percent — has made this a landlord's market. Vying for a place to stay means multiple applications and visits to crowded open houses. Good luck if you don't have good credit, a clean rental record and a recommendation from the pope.
As a result, some landlords, aware of the skewed supply-and-demand balance, are less concerned with keeping tenants happy and more attuned to who their next, higher-paying resident might be. We've collected a few horror stories from the world of Los Angeles renting.
We hope they make you feel better.
An affordable Hollywood community to be razed for a luxury high-rise
The two-story Yucca-Argyle apartment complex in Hollywood is a dying breed, but it's what we need more of in L.A. The three-building affair contains 40 units that predate 1978's rent-control ordinance, so annual increases are limited to 3 percent, and leases are in the dreamy $1,000 to $1,200 range.
A developer plans to raze the apartments, along with an adjacent single-family home, duplex and studio apartment, to build two mixed-use buildings with 191 units and a hotel, restaurants and shops. Sounds like a decent compromise, right? L.A. needs housing.
But only 39 of the new units would be "affordable" under city rules, and it's likely they'd still cost more than rents at the Yucca-Argyle complex. There have been no promises that current tenants could have first dibs on those apartments. We reached out to developer Bob Champion but did not hear back.
"It's really shameful and sad that this many people will be displaced for the sake of a development that isn't necessarily addressing the housing needs of Angelenos," says resident Sasha Ali, a 37-year-old museum exhibition manager.
Tenants are fighting the development. Even though there's been no formal notice of eviction or even a friendly letter explaining that the Yucca-Argyle complex is destined to become dust, a relocation counselor was sent to speak to residents, Ali says.
The complex now includes fixed-income retirees (one couple has been there nearly 60 years, Ali says), a disabled veteran and others described by Ali as low-income families. She believes that higher-end developments like the one planned to replace her building draw deep-pocketed out-of-towners while displacing longtime locals.
"We're not going to be able to find anything in that neighborhood," she says.
The new project, comprising two buildings that would be as high as 32 stories, would be located across the street from a twin skyscraper development — 35 and 39 stories tall — called Millennium Hollywood. That mixed-use project has been the subject of a lawsuit by neighbors who aim to bury it.
The neighborhood (in which another mega-project, called the Hollywood Palladium Tower, is planned) is the focal point of a citywide political war over development. Backers of the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative argue that such projects are displacing locals and ruining quality of life. They're pushing to impose strict limits on such development. The union-backed Campaign for a Better L.A. appears to want the opposite — to fast-track projects and add as many units, as quickly as possible, to local housing stock.
Elizabeth Blaney, of the L.A. Tenants Union, says her group is opposed to the Better L.A. proposal. The L.A. Tenants Union has joined the fight against the destruction of the Yucca-Argyle complex, but Blaney makes it sound as if demolition is inevitable.
"The key thing is dealing with the displacement of the tenants there," Blaney says. "They don't want to leave. We need to look at ways in which there could be a guaranteed right of return for those tenants."
Ali says the $10,000 in relocation money she figures the developer might offer won't go far in this market. But she's more worried about others in her complex.
"We're really most concerned about the elders and the low-income families," she says. "Where are they going to go?"
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A landlord hovering uncomfortably close
It's a relief when, in this impossible market, with a less-than-stellar application, your would-be landlord says, "Forget about it — I like you."
Then she turns out to be a doting, privacy-invading, busy-body nightmare. Allegedly. Twenty-three-year-old Anna Soffer, at the time an aspiring schoolteacher just out of college, was desperate for a place last summer. Her roommate was putting up his dad as a co-signer. But 15 applications in, "No one would rent to me," she says.
When they found a two-bedroom place in Eagle Rock, it was small and dirty, Soffer says. Dishes and condiments had been left behind by the previous tenants. The landlord, with a grandmotherly air, encouraged Soffer to use them. The place was $1,300 a month — a steal split two ways.
The duo moved in.
"That's when things started getting weird," Soffer says. "She told us we could not have overnight guests unless we introduced them to her first. Even then, we couldn't have guests sleep over more than 10 nights a year. My boyfriend was leaving one night after helping me move some stuff into the apartment, and I hear our landlord shouting at him as he was leaving: 'I'm calling the cops! Why are you intruding?'?"
Soffer says that when the first utility bill came, the landlord tried to charge her for water and power predating her arrival — three months' worth in all, she said.
The woman complained of "marijuana parties" that never took place, Soffer recalls, and asked Soffer where she was if she didn't come home by a certain time. And Soffer says that when she brought a rental car home, the landlord called police because she believed "someone was trespassing."
When Soffer and her roommate moved out a few months later, she claims that the landlord dodged phone calls and canceled appointments set up in an attempt to get the deposit back. She tried to keep the entire amount, Soffer says, but 70 days later, after threats of a small-claims filing and a stern letter from Soffer's uncle, an attorney, the pair got most of it back.
Soffer is now a full-time schoolteacher. She found another place in Eagle Rock. When she moved, she says, "I was like, glory hallelujah!"
A landlord on the lam
R.V. Hill relayed this tale of her daughter's experience in South L.A. last year.
Hill says the ceiling caved, sewage from a second-floor unit leaked in, the gas for the entire building was turned off for lack of payment by the landlord, and the on-site manager turned out to be a registered sex offender.
Hill's daughter, a 36-year-old mother of three, wanted out, but it became impossible to find the owner.
"The landlord was not who he said he was," Hill claims. "They were hidden deep."
Her daughter wanted to take the landlord to court, but she had to locate him first. Hill says legal papers were returned to sender. "They would come back and say that's not the owner," Hill says. "They moved the property five times to different owners" during that time.
But individual renters wield more power when they band together. Tenants of the four-unit building united, tracked down the owner and collectively took him to court. They won relocation fees and back rent, Hill says.
"It was difficult for an entire year," she recalls. "Especially since they are the working poor."
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