Columnists Opinion

Los Angeles renters need to know their rights

By Karen Bass and

Marqueece Harris-Dawson

Guest Columnists

It’s no secret that Los Angeles is in the midst of a housing crisis, accentuated by calculated misinformation campaigns about renters’ rights designed to take advantage of unsuspecting tenants in South Los Angeles.

Single parents and their children are being offered seemingly large amounts of cash for their keys, and families who have been living in their communities for generations are waking up to realize that they can no longer afford to be a part of the neighborhoods that they grew up in.

People are losing their homes and being forced to live couch to couch, in their car or out on the streets.

Over the past six years, the number of people living on the streets increased from around 32,000 people to more than 55,000 people. In February, the Los Angeles Times reported that if Los Angeles was taken out of the national homeless count, the number of people without homes in this country would have decreased for the first time since the recession hit in 2008.

In South Los Angeles, homelessness is on the rise faster than most areas in the city. This, in part, is the result of schemes to buy properties from homeowners and renters with seemingly large amounts of cash, a decrease in Section 8 housing acceptance to pay for rent and spreading gentrification and displacement.

More and more often, we hear from constituents about offers that seemingly come out of nowhere: A letter, a call or even an in-person visit from someone offering to pay them a lump-sum of money in exchange for them to move out of their house.

Most times, the amount seems like a good deal, but it’s almost always a scheme that the check writer is using to turn a much bigger profit. And while they get rich off of the resident’s need for immediate cash, the homeowner or renter and their family are cast off into a city where prices are continuing to rise and that cash they accepted decreases, dwindles and then disappears.

But that’s not the only way families are being pushed out of their homes.

Throughout South L.A., fewer and fewer landlords are accepting Section 8 housing vouchers and that’s only after a family is declared eligible after jumping through hoops in a system designed to capitalize on the cycle of poverty. Many families aren’t able to even qualify initially because of policies left over from the failed war on drugs that disqualify you from receiving services due to a petty drug charge from years ago.

After tenants are forced to relocate because they can no longer afford the rent demanded, the landlords can double or sometimes triple the rent for that house or apartment.

Even if the landlord doesn’t directly refuse to accept Section 8 or if the rent doesn’t go up, it’s the rising cost of everything else in the neighborhood that puts unbearable pressure on families.

Many homes in South L.A. are passed down from generation to generation, but when maintenance fees and the cost of living in the area are on the rise, many have no choice but to leave the only home their family had known for decades.

Even if they can keep up with those expenses, it’s possible that the landlord can’t. As maintenance costs rise, so does rent and soon there’s another family on the streets. So what can we do?

One of the most important things we can do is talk to our neighbors and family members about their rights. Half of Los Angeles households live in rent-controlled units, which means they can expect:

  • No more than a 3 percent increase in rent a year, limited legal reasons for eviction and relocation assistance for no-fault evictions.
  • The right to stay in your apartment and not accept any buyout offer from your landlord. (You can receive a consultation with the city of Los Angeles, and you can change your mind within 30 days.)
  • The right to call 866-557-RENT (7368) to see if you are covered by rent control protections.

But we can’t just rely on word of mouth, which is why we’re continuing our community work and coming to you. This winter, our offices are proud to work in conjunction to ensure that residents of South L.A. are in a position to keep their homes and to educate tenants and homeowners alike about the rights that they have when it comes to keeping their home. We will be hosting at least four upcoming resource fairs in South L.A. to equip our community with both legal and educational resources to combat propositioning, misinformation or ever-rising costs of living.

We also are looking at strategies at both the federal and local levels to combat displacement. The three South Los Angeles City Council members recently introduced the Neighborhood Stabilization Ordinance to study the issues and create new solutions. We will rely on your voices and experiences to craft the best policies for our communities.

On the federal side, in addition to providing resources for the community, we will continue pushing for legislation nationwide to combat homelessness throughout Los Angeles, but also the entire country.

United on both the local and federal fronts, we are fighting to lower housing costs and to provide resources to those worried about losing their homes. It’s a top issue for Los Angeles, and it’s our top issue as well.

U.S. Rep. Karen Bass represents California’s 37th Congressional District in Washington, D.C. Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson represents the Eighth Council District.