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'I'm Going To Be Eating Very Little Food': Tenants Go On Rent Strike To Fight Rent Increases

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Tenants in the Westlake District of Los Angeles have resorted to a tactic becoming more and more common as Southern California's housing crunch squeezes those who can't afford rising rents: a rent strike.

The renters at three buildings on South Burlington Avenue have teamed up with the Los Angeles Tenants Union in the hopes their landlord will not only be reasonable in their increases, but also address what they have called slum-like conditions.

Even though they haven't paid rent since March, residents believe their rents could go up by nearly 40 percent following a 10 percent increase last year.

"If it was just by myself, I could handle it, but I've got a wife to take care of," resident Robert Rodriguez told CBS2 News. "It hurts."

More than 90 families — about 200 people, according to LATU's Facebook page — joined the group in fighting the rent increases from the landlord identified by the group as Donald Crasnick and 1979 Ehrlich Investment Trust, making it what could be one of the largest rent strikes in L.A. history.

"This is about 'the rent is too damn high,'" said attorney Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Network. She is representing the Burlington tenants. "We are in an absolute housing crisis."

The predominately Latino individuals and families are fighting the rent increases, saying the buildings are deplorable, as evidenced a busted sewage line in one of the structures.

"Really stinky. It's just black waters," said Antonio Lamas pointing out the pool of water in a parking structure. "Black waters" translates to the Spanish term for raw sewage.

Other say their roof leaks when it rains.

Twelve-year-old Haily Hernandez's main concern, however, is that her family is able to keep that roof, leaking or not, over their heads.

"They were just working, like, one job, but now they're like my dad, working day and night," lamented Haily. "And my mom is trying to work with him day and night, too."

The trust has taken the tenants to court in hopes of getting them evicted for their failure to pay rent.

Lisa Ehrlich, an attorney who represents the trust, told CBS2 the city has inspected the building and has found no code violations. She added the rent is being increased by about $250 per unit to meet "cost of living increases" in refuse and Department of Water and Power fees.

Ehrlich sent CBS2 a statement, which reads, in part,

"The tenants were served with a lawful rent increase. Many of the tenants had received little or no rent increase since 2008. The rent increase brings the rent up to the HUD average 2018 rental rate."

The median rental price for a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles was $1,350 in March of this year, Curbed LA reported. It was $1,730 for a two-bedroom.

Whatever the cost is, Robert Rodriguez told CBS2 his proposed rent is just too much.

"If I pay the rent, I'm going to be eating very little food," said Rodriguez.

The tenants union plans to protest at the Pacific Palisades Farmers Market on June 3.

"We can't protest at Lisa's $4 million home, behind a gate up in the hills, so we're going into her community instead," the groups Facebook event reads.

The first eviction cases go to trial on June 4.

LATU and Popp were also part of a rent strike at the former Marmion Apartments in Highland Park two years ago. All those tenants ended up either cutting a deal with the owner or getting evicted. That apartment complex is now called Moxie and Clover.

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