Thursday, December 08, 2016

Gentrification-Minded Koreatown Landlord Looking To Boot Rent-Controlled Tenants & Flip Buildings Hit With 92-Page Lawsuit; Action Filed By Pro Bono Lawyers On Behalf Of 15 Residents Looking To Fight Off Allegedly Illegal Eviction Notices & Practices Described As Violating Federal, State Anti-Discrimination Laws

In Los Angeles, California, the Los Angeles Times reports:
  • After a lifetime of riding the trains in the summer and wintering at the missions on L.A.’s skid row, Arthur Rivera ended up in a Santa Monica gutter.

    Then a case manager with Step Up on Second, a mental health services agency, obtained a rental subsidy for him. In 2011 Rivera moved into a single apartment in a four-story, brick-facade building in Koreatown.

    Rivera, 67, said his life has stabilized into a simple routine, riding the bus several times a week to Step Up on Second for group activities and meals. Otherwise, he stays in his sparse apartment where the furnishings consist of a metal fold-up bed and a box for his radio.

    “I stay home and listen to my music,” Rivera said. “I do my exercise. Taking my shower. Inside my room. I get discouraged going outside. Going outside I get angry and nervous. I feel better staying in here. I want to at least have my space.”

    But Rivera’s equilibrium was upended three years later when the building was sold.

    The new manager told him, “’There’s going to be some big changes around here,’” he said.

    According to a lawsuit filed in federal court [], the changes began with a notice from the new owner that it would no longer accept Section 8. Rivera was given 90 days to move.

    Rivera is one of 15 tenants in five Koreatown buildings named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, filed electronically [] by the pro bono law firm Public Counsel(1) and the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates Inc.(2) It alleges that the Century City investment company Optimus Properties LLC used abusive and discriminatory tactics to displace mentally ill and Latino tenants from the rent-controlled buildings so they could renovate their units and rent them for more money.

    In addition to Optimus, the lawsuit names five affiliated limited liability companies that are the registered owners of the buildings; Roxbury Ventures LLC, described as Optimus’ property management company; and Jerome Mickelson, listed on Optimus’ website as director of construction/multifamily asset manager.
    The lawsuit alleges Optimus violated state and federal anti-discrimination laws to push out “undesirable” tenants so it could “market the units to childless, English-speaking, non-disabled people of means, and increase their profits on the rapid resale of the apartment buildings.”

    The 92-page complaint contains a section on each of the 15 plaintiffs, outlining instances of rent increases and eviction notices that it described as unlawful. Four of the plaintiffs were described as people with mental disabilities. The others were Spanish-speaking tenants, either couples with children, single parents or elderly.
    The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and an injunction ordering Optimus to cease the alleged practices.
For more, see Investment firm ousts mentally ill and Latino families to flip Koreatown buildings, lawsuit alleges.
(1) Public Counsel is the non-profit, pro bono public interest law firm of the Los Angeles County and Beverly Hills Bar Associations as well as the Southern California affiliate of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. It serves a wide spectrum of people who live at or below the poverty level.

(2) Public Advocates Inc. is a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization that works in collaboration with grassroots groups representing low-income communities, people of color and immigrants, combined with strategic policy reform, media advocacy and litigation.

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