Landlord Files False Address Relocating Renter to Cemetery

80 year-old Vivian Sosa recognized her relocation address as that of a cemetery in which she had buried a family member decades prior.

80 year-old Vivian Sosa recognized her relocation address as that of a cemetery in which she had buried a family member decades prior.

The moment 80 year-old Vivian Sosa read the address, she knew something was amiss.

It was supposed to be the location of her new home, where she would be temporarily relocated from 240 N Robinson St., her Echo Park home of 41 years, while it was under construction.

But Sosa knew immediately that the address, 1831 W. Washington Blvd., wasn’t a home at all. It was Rosedale Cemetery—the same cemetery in which she had buried a family member decades ago.

“[The landlord] wants to evict us all,” Sosa said through a translator in a February Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) video. “He just doesn’t want any of us there. And that’s why he sent me to move to the cemetery.”

Sosa’s attempted relocation was part of what is known as a Tenant Habitability Plan (THP)—a document filed to the city by landlords hoping to make repairs or renovations on occupied units.

According to LATU’s Trinidad Ruiz, THPs are the latest in a series of tactics developers have used to wrongfully evict rent-controlled tenants under the cover of law.

Previous local evictions—including Los Feliz’s 1655 Rodney Dr., where residents underwent a four-year battle with developers before they were forced to move in early 2016—invoked the Ellis Act, a 1985 California law originally intended to allow landlords to retire from the rental business.

But according to Ruiz, as Ellis Act evictions have gained in profile, many landlords have moved on to THPs.

Previously, residents of the Cove apartment complex in Los Feliz reported a false THP was filed, and approved, for their building after its owner unsuccessfully threatened to use the Ellis Act to get them to leave. Ultimately, after City Council intervention, the THP was overturned and the tenants were allowed to stay.

Similarly, according to LATU’s Ruiz, the organization has received multiple reports from tenants throughout the city, from North Hollywood to Leimert Park, of attempted relocations that were out of compliance with city law, but had been rubber stamped by housing officials nonetheless.

Such issues, said Ruiz, ranged from buildings that were unsanitary or otherwise out of code to units that were already occupied and therefore unavailable, and in each case, the THP had been initially approved.

“It’s like the developers are sharing best practices,” said LATU’s Ruiz. “It just becomes another way around [rent stabilization].”

Sosa’s son-in-law, Uver Santa Cruz, who has lived at 240 N Robinson for 30 years, said the building’s manager told him the incorrect address had been a mistake.

But Santa Cruz said he has a hard time believing it could have been accidental, since landlords are responsible for coordinating all relocation.

Such relocations are meant to be temporary, and according to Santa Cruz, tenants are to continue paying rent as usual, while the building owner is responsible for making all relocation arrangements and payments to the new landlord.

“[THPs are] supposed to make it real easy for you to be able to move. On paper, it’s perfect,” said Santa Cruz, but in this case, “It sort of feels like a scam.”

Robert Galardi with the city’s Housing and Community Investment Dept. (HCID) confirmed the process that Santa Cruz described, but said he doubted the building’s owner, who has since resubmitted the paperwork with a residential relocation address, had any ill intent.

“If it’s determined there is an error in the plan, the owner has to resubmit,” said Galardi, but there are currently no further repercussions for filing a THP with a false relocation address.

According to HCID’s Daniel Gomez, the THP process was originally developed by a tenant workers’ group, and was intended to benefit tenants, not landlords, which is why the Robinson paperwork had been approved by his department, cemetery address and all.

“Our department’s been relying on the tenants and the landlords” to vet the addresses on the THPs, said Gomez. “The whole process puts a lot of responsibility between the two parties.”

However, according to Gomez, in light of recent “rough spots,” like the cemetery mishap, HCID has already instated a more rigorous THP approval policy, and is working with legal aid and tenants’ rights organizations to identify other problems in the approval process.

“From this day forward,” said Gomez, “we are going in person to look at these properties.”

Meanwhile, Santa Cruz and the other Robinson residents have hired an attorney, who has advised them not to relocate.

“When they show up with the moving trucks, [our lawyer] will be here,” said Santa Cruz.

Temi Akinyemi of Western Regional Properties, LLC, who filed the incorrect THP, declined to comment on this story.

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