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Los Angeles Wave

Friday December 02, 2011

Bottom Line Update: Tenants Defy Landlords' Order To Pay Rent Online

By Betty Pleasant, Contributing Editor
 
Angry tenants at Woodlake Manor apartment complex in the Crenshaw District were turned away Thursday when they tried to pay their monthly rent with checks, money orders or cash.

The scheduled "Rumble in the Jungle" in the Crenshaw-area's Woodlake Manor Apartments spread Thursday as tenants of rent-controlled housing complexes defied the orders of the owner that they pay their rents only online.

A group of Woodlake Manor tenants tried to pay their rent in person Thursday, but the leasing agent of the owner, Peggy Jones, refused to accept them, pursuant to Jones' direct order. Similar attempts to pay the rent were rejected at the Jones-owned Gloria Homes Apartments across the street and at a Hillcrest Drive complex in the neighborhood.

However, the tenants in an apartment complex Jones owns in Sherman Oaks made an aggressive attempt to pay their rent. They refused to be refused. They loudly and adamantly insisted on paying their rent in person and the agent was so frightened that she took them despite Jones' orders not to.

Tenant Dedon Kanathi attempts to pay his rent, but Jones and Jones Management representatives refuse rent telling him he needs to pay online.

In the meantime, the Los Angeles City Housing Department reacted to the rising uproar by sending a letter Monday via fax and U.S. Postal Service to Jones' management group, which controls some 34 apartment complexes in the city, telling the company to, in effect, cease and desist. The letter reads, in part: "The [law] states that a landlord can not unilaterally change the terms of the tenancy under Civil Code Section 827 and then evict the tenant for the violation of the added covenant unless the tenant agrees in writing to the additional term."

The letter then explains that the requirement that the tenants pay rent only online is a unilateral change to the tenancy and is, therefore, illegal. "You are free to propose a change in terms of tenancy, but you cannot require that the tenant agree to pay rent online. Please be advised that the tenant may not be evicted for continuing to pay rent via check."

The letter, written by Karen Dean, housing investigator in the Investigation and Enforcement Section of the Housing Department, ends with: "In summary, if you attempt to evict the tenant for change in terms of tenancy to which she did not agree in writing, the Los Angeles Housing Department would consider it an illegal eviction."

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, worked with his volunteers through Wednesday night and into Thursday morning distributing English and Spanish language fliers in an attempt to reach the thousands of tenants in city apartments affected by the new rent payment orders and inform them of the illegality of Jones' action.

The fliers explained that Jones' demand for online rent payments is illegal and that they should not worry their minds about the notices she sent them demanding that they so do. Instead, CES told the tenants to file claims with the Housing Department, which they provided.

"But you see, she had that letter Monday. And she ignored it," Gross said. "The city told her what she planned to do [Thursday] was illegal and she went ahead and did it anyway. That shows you the kind of arrogant, money-grubbing attitude and actions those of us fighting for tenants' rights have to deal with everyday.

"And who do you suppose she's targeting with this scheme?" Gross asked. "The most vulnerable --- the seniors and the disabled --- the ones who are the least able to pay online and the ones presently paying the lowest rents! She wants to get rid of seniors and replace them with younger, more affluent, tenants so she can make more money," Gross said. "This is a dastardly move."

"That's why people don't like landlords. And in this case, even other landlords don't like this one," Gross added. "I got a letter today from an apartment owners association denouncing Jones & Jones' online rent scheme and distancing itself from that company."

City Councilman Herb Wesson, in whose 10th District several Jones-owned apartment complexes are located, also condemned the landlord, saying: "They're making all landlords look bad. As a rule, landlords are honest, hard-working people trying to do right by everybody. But this is unbearable and I'm going to do everything I can to see that this outrage is resolved fairly, humanely and legally," Wesson said. Toward that end, he said he plans to meet Monday with the city attorney on this matter.

In the meantime, CES volunteers are calling Jones & Jones lawyers and telling them that they'd better not even think about evicting people from their apartment over this rent payment issue.

"We have a bank of lawyers who have volunteered to represent free of charge any tenant Jones tries to evict and then sue the company for every cent it has. They're working on filing a temporary restraining order in court since Jones has chosen to ignore the ruling of the Housing Department," Gross said. "Let her ignore that."


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