About a dozen Coalition for Economic Survival (CES) members, who are tenants receiving Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers at a 40-unit complex on Montclair Street in Jefferson Park neighborhood of LA, met with their City Council Member, Herb Wesson in September, 2007. Wesson also serves as the Chairperson of the LA City Council Housing Community Economic and Development (HCED) Committee.
Approximately 21 of the tenants at the complex had received 90-day notices from their landlord Milan Properties of their intention to terminate their Section 8 rent subsidy contract. Tenants receiving Section 8 pay 30% of their income to rent and the Housing Authority pays the remaining amount of the rent.
While the landlord was not formally evicting them for this reason, they stated that tenants were welcome to stay if they paid the full rent. Of course, this would have been, in effect, evicting them for the tenants wouldn't be able to pay the full rent and, thus, would have had to move.
Tenants Lawyer Up
The tenants were represented by Christian Abasto, an attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and by the powerful downtown law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson. Legal Aid and Munger, Tolles & Olson represent CES tenants at the 66-unit Morton Gardens Apartments and more than 50 elderly and disabled CES tenants of the Reseda Village Green Apartments who had faced a similar situation. These attorneys won a significant victory in Federal Court on behalf of Morton Gardens tenants right to remain in their homes.
Tenants' rights attorneys who have been defending tenants against a wave of 90-day Section 8 termination notices argue that a Section 8 contract cannot be terminated until there is a vacancy. Since the units are under the city's rent control law, there needs to be a "just cause" reason for the landlord to evict a tenant and establish a vacancy.
Unscrupulous Landlord Tactics
Milan Properties had been buying up rent controlled buildings throughout Los Angeles and resorting to a campaign of harassment, intimidation, threats, and refuses to make needed repairs, all in an effort to force tenants to move in order to raise rents.
One Milan tenant has responded by establishing a web site, milanpropertiessuck.com, to publicly report on what tenants have been facing and document the conditions at the buildings.
Upon hearing of the Montclair tenants' plight, Council Member Wesson pledged to do all within his power to protect the tenants. He stated that he would contact the City Attorney to inquire on what action the City could take.
Since this time Milan has backed down from following through on their attempt to termination the Section 8 Voucher contracts. They are waiting to see what the courts will rule on these issues before taking their next steps.
Geraldine Clark, President of the Montclair Tenants Association, stated, "Before we began meeting and organizing we didn't know if we would have to move. Now due to our efforts, with the help from CES, the lawyers and Council Member Wesson, we believe we're going to eventually win."