Lead Story West Edition

Tenants protest ‘slum-like’ conditions

LOS ANGELES — Mold, pigeons, massive holes and never-ending rent increases.

Those are the living conditions described by several families who have been living in “slum-like” conditions for years due to neglect of the property allegedly at the hands of Invitation Homes, a subsidiary of the national home leasing company Blackstone, according to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment.

The alliance held a press conference Sept. 3 in front of the Invitation Homes Southern California Pasadena office. The focus of the conference was to put pressure on Invitation Homes for its neglect of several properties, but specifically for residents Cecilia and Carlos Vargas, Sherri Eddings and Diane Trevino, who have been renting from Invitation Homes for years.

For months, the Vargas family has been living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions in Compton. While dealing with the property, they also battle the company on evictions and rent increases.

“I can’t keep living under these conditions if they aren’t going to fix the repairs that they should fix by law,” Cecilia Vargas said. “The conditions that my family lives in are unhealthy. We’re asking for them to make these repairs.”

In April, at another alliance press conference, the Vargas family held up large poster-sized photos of the mold growing in their home. Two weeks ago, mold inspectors found mold in every room of the house.

The Vargas family has three children and they all have health symptoms they claim comes from living with mold. A son, 16, suffers from nosebleeds, the family faces other symptoms of respiratory issues and skin irritation.

During that April press conference, Compton City Councilman Isaac Galvan, former Councilwoman Janna Zurita and others from the Compton City Council visited the Vargas home.

The Vargas family went to court in 2018 and reached an agreement with Invitation Homes about fixing the issues and stopping their evictions. They also reported the conditions of the property to the City Council a year and a half before that April conference.

Galvan noted the conditions of the property, saying there are “real health hazards like mold, dirty water, plumbing that backs up into the sink, carpets that have not been replaced and electrical issues.”

“What I plan to do is get code enforcement over here, get the city attorney to get a letter out to this landlord and get the fire department over here to do a fire inspection to make sure things are safe,” Zurita said.

Sherri Eddings is also dealing with rent increases and property neglect by Invitation Homes. Eddings has been renting from Invitation Homes since 2006 and, according to her, the rent was $1,800 when she moved in. Her first increase in rent was $500 a month making her new rent $2,300.

She was able to get her 16% rent increase reduced to 11%. However, her fight wasn’t over. Two years later, Invitation Homes hit her with another rent increase for $500 and she was able to negotiate that down as well.

In the 13 years Eddings has been renting from the leasing company, she has accumulated $700 in rent increases.

“My heart goes out to all of the people who have lost their homes because of the increase,” Eddings said. “I could have been one of them if it hadn’t been for the glory of God and my rent being adjusted. I’m just sad to know that people are homeless. And that’s why we need rent control.”

Cecilia Vargas agrees.

“It’s clear that the entire state needs rent control,” she said. “We’re seeing homelessness at a high rate. We’re seeing folks pushed out into the streets. The need for statewide rent control is obvious.”

The alliance said will be protesting outside of the Invitation Homes Southern California Pasadena office on the third day of each month to advocate for clean, safe and affordable living situations.

According to its website, the alliance “is a multi-racial, democratic, nonprofit community organization that builds power to fight and stand for economic, racial and social justice.”

“There are many, many stories out there about what Invitation Homes is doing. I have seen that personally,” Orinio Opinaldo, an alliance member and press conference facilitator, said. “We need to lift the voices of tenants who are being displaced by rent gouging. We must stand together and fight.”