Mass Eviction Leads to Tenant Protection Ordinance Drama

Evicted tenants complain landlord is blocking them from getting benefits and City’s ordinance has no teeth, while property owner says 80% of tenants have been paid, and 90% of checks have already been cashed

Published : Tuesday, July 30, 2019 | 5:30 AM

[Updated]   A property owner who served eviction notices on 16 tenants at his Northwest Pasadena apartment building on June 1 told Pasadena Now Monday that he has complied with Pasadena’s Tenant Protection Ordinance and relocation checks have been issued to “80% of the tenants” in amounts ranging from $8,000 to $17,000.

The mass eviction and objections by tenants to the landlord’s actions have become a focal point for area tenants rights groups and those advocating rent control in Pasadena. The situation is also a proving ground of sorts for the City’s newly expanded Tenant Protection Ordinance.

According to Jeff T. Lee, Manager of Nevis Capital LLC — the new owners of the property at 278 East Washington Boulevard — a few remaining residents are still negotiating their payment, but the majority of the relocation checks were issued to tenants even before the recent expansion of the City’s Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO), which went into effect July 1.

The new amendment expanded the previous ordinance to apply to tenants displaced after a change in ownership of rental properties, whether by large rent increases, lease terminations, or evictions.

According to the terms of the expanded ordinance, new property owners are required to provide relocation allowance and moving expenses to income-qualified tenants in good standing, if the tenancies are terminated within 18 months of the date the property is transferred.

Pasadena is one of only six of 88 cities in LA County to put such an ordinance in place.

“We are still trying to qualify some tenants,” said Lee on Monday. Lee also said Pasadena’s Tenant Protection Ordinance did not apply to some tenants.

Members of what became known as the “Washington 16,” the moniker of the displaced residents in Lee’s building, have appeared before City Council twice to protest either the speed of the payments or the amounts.

Last Friday evening, a group led by the Pasadena Tenants Justice Coalition led a march and protest at the apartment owner’s home in Arcadia.

According to Pasadena Tenants Union member Ryan Bell, there are approximately three tenants still remaining on the Washington Boulevard property.

“The City has left the tenant protection ordinance a little open-ended, which is a problem that we have,” said Bell on Monday. “There’s no clear timeline when the payments need to be made to the tenants that are being evicted. The whole point of the assistance is to enable the tenants to get their new place — to be able to put a security deposit down on first month’s rent and moving expenses. And very often tenants don’t have it in their bank account to go and spend thousands of dollars to move.”

Bell continued, “We really would like to see landlords give the funds in a certain amount of time in advance of [tenants] moving, so that they can use those monies to secure that new housing.”

But Lee said tenants were free to explain their situations to him. “Tenants are free to provide more information to us. They can come back to us anytime if they feel the payments are unfair.”

And according to Lee, “90%” of the checks issued to the Washington Boulevard tenants have been cashed.

According to Pasadena Housing Department Director Bill Huang, the City does not directly step in to negotiate disputes between landlords and tenants but facilitates resolution. The City provides forms to affected tenants to fill out, which are then returned to the Housing Department. The Housing Department then provides the forms to landlords for their response.

Huang explained that when disputes occur, the City refers tenants and landlords to the non-profit Housing Right Center in Pasadena, which, along with the Neighborhood Legal Service Center in Glendale, deals with such issues.

“We provide all the information and technical assistance to landlords if it’s requested, and help both parties understand the ordinance and the calculations and the income eligibility, and the like,” Huang said.

Councilmember Victor Gordo, who serves on the City’s Economic Development and Technology Committee, explained further that “the TPO confers a right upon tenants, and a responsibility upon landlords.”

According to the City’s ordinance, landlords who fail to provide relocation assistance as required “shall be liable in a civil action to the tenant for damages in the amount of the relocation fee the landlord has failed to pay.”

In addition, a civil penalty in the amount of $500 and “reasonable attorney’s fees and costs determined by the court” will also be paid by the landlord.

Gordo continued, “There remains a question as to whether or not the city should involve itself in a disagreement involving the TPO or any other disagreement between a tenant and the landlord, and that that debate is alive and well. I do think there ought to be some sort of an enforcement reminder, if you will, or notification of a landlord, when a landlord is selling property that is subject to the TPO.”

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