How Renters Can Protect Themselves

Now That Prop 10 Failed

Proposition 10 was an effort to repeal the CA 1995 Costa-Hawkins Act, a twenty-three-year-old law that has limited the ability of cities across the state to enact new rent control and rent stabilization efforts. If you live in an apartment building built after 1978, your rights as a tenant remain minimal, and your landlord has great leeway to raise the rent any amount and evict at any time with short notice. The majority of new housing and apartment buildings are priced for the luxury market. This harms lower income renters who are at the whim of owners who want to raise rents to match the market value of this rapidly developing luxury market. Because of the failure of Prop 10 the city cannot enact any rent control regulations to protect tenants from these sudden rent increases or evictions. Prop 10 was not going to immediately enact new rent control anywhere, only allow for municipalities to decide new rent control measures rather than the state deciding for them. So how can tenants now protect themselves?

Dec18tenants


Tenants Associations 

A tenants association is a group of tenants, who live in the same building or development, who choose to form a group in order to advocate for themselves, particularly when dealing with their landlord or residential management.

Imagine you live in a forty-unit apartment building (and your building is not under L.A.’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance because it was built after 1978). You’ve been there for seven years, and your lease went on a month-to-month basis after the first year. You pay $1,200 per month. One day, you come home and find a notice that your rent is going to increase $500 per month, starting in sixty days.

First, you panic—you can’t afford that! Second, you consult your L.A. Tenants Union Tenants Handbook to see if this is even legal—unfortunately, it is. What do you do next? Do you simply accept this as fate and hit Craigslist to look for another place; OR, do you talk to your neighbors? Much of a landlord’s power comes from tenants operating in isolation; it’s easier to get away with large rent increases when handing them out to individuals, legal or not.

Let’s say you knock on the next door over and find out your neighbor also received an increase. The two of you then knock on all the doors on your floor and find out everyone has received unexplained increases of varying, but high amounts. None of you can afford it. Do you all collectively start hunting for new homes and simply walk away from your building and your neighborhood? What about those neighbors who have kids in local schools? What about your place in the community?

How about you band together and fight back? In the L.A. Tenants Union, we have seen a wide range of reasons why tenants benefit from forming a tenants association with their neighbors, preferably even before a crisis like a huge rent increase: we have seen tenants associations win much needed repairs for their buildings by organizing protests at the offices of their landlord. We have seen tenants associations beat back large rent hikes by organizing their neighbors to withhold their rent in what’s known as a rent strike. We have also seen tenants association function as community resources, organizing childcare, protecting neighbors from family-splitting deportation raids, and educating neighbors on their rights. Forming a tenants association is something that tenants can do on their own, and it is constitutionally protected under the right to organize.

Tenants associations offer the following: Strength in numbers—it is easier to feel empowered when you are fighting alongside others; Collective bargaining—forty tenants advocating for lower  rent, necessary repairs, or against harassment will have far more power than one, and you can coordinate to protest together, sign petitions together, even to withhold your rent checks; Public pressure—one tenant protesting may make that person vulnerable to retaliation from the landlord but forty households conducting a protest rent strike will get the attention of the city government and the press; Easier to retain legal counsel—often lawyers are more willing to take on a case if they know they have the support of a group of tenants united; It’s easier and quicker to plan an effective legal strategy—from a lawyer’s perspective, working with a tenants association makes planning a case much easier because witnesses, documents, and other evidence might apply to more than one case in the same building; Protection from retaliation—according to the California Civil Code, it is illegal for a landlord to retaliate or threaten to retaliate against you for joining or participating in a tenants association, giving you greater protections under state law when you exercise your rights and stand up for yourself; and Freedom of speech and assembly—courts have interpreted the First Amendment to protect a wide variety of union and association activities, and in California, landlords may be subject to a special type of legal proceeding, called Anti-SLAPP, if they take actions against a tenants association because of a protest.

So how do you get started? 

The first step in starting a tenants association is that you need to begin talking to your neighbors with the goal of bringing them together for regular meetings. A good way to gather for the first time is to hold a Tenants Rights Workshop for everyone in the building (L.A. Tenants Union lawyers and solidarity caseworkers are available to help organize). Many tenants do not know their rights but are eager to learn.

Begin the workshop with everyone introducing themselves. Ask each person to share at least one question they have about tenants rights. Write down all the questions on large pieces of paper, and then dedicate time to discussing answers in depth.

After all the tenants have had their questions answered and there is now some understanding of the situation they face together, begin to develop some consensus in the group around what to do. Who wishes to stay in their apartment? Where will you go if you can’t afford to stay in the neighborhood? How will that impact your everyday life—your work, school, social safety net, and family? Most tenants want to preserve their situation. It can be enormously powerful for tenants to realize that as a group their housing is worth fighting for and protecting. 

You can then explain to the group that a clear next step could be the formation of a tenants association, to keep everyone informed and establish a means to collectively defend their rights. If there is interest, make sure that the meeting doesn’t end before scheduling the day, time, and location of the next meeting. Find out who in the group is willing to make a flyer and who would commit to notifying all the neighbors about the meeting, the purpose of which will be to start formalizing the new tenants association.

Our next column will explain that formalization process: determining the specific conditions in your building, writing bylaws, determining roles, notifying your landlord, and finally taking action to create and defend community..


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Established in August of 2008 by writerartist Dianne V. Lawrence, The Neighborhood News covers the events, people, history, politics and historic architecture of communities throughout the Mid-City and West Adams area in Los Angeles Council District 10.

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