Helping tenants know their rights in Boyle Heights

Maria Rodriguez has lived in her sunshine-yellow Boyle Heights duplex for ten years. With her first landlord, rents stayed relatively stable over time. But when he sold the building, subsequent owners have raised prices suddenly and dramatically.

It was when one owner requested an additional $500 or face eviction that Rodriguez began to panic. “In the beginning, I thought it was a joke,” Rodriguez said. “But then I got very nervous and was afraid that I had to leave this house.”

A friend put her in contact with the community organization Union de Vecinos, who intervened with her landlord on her behalf and had the rent lowered back to a more affordable rate.

Based largely in Boyle Heights and Maywood, Union de Vecinos describes their organization as a “network of neighborhood and building communities” where residents can come together to observe problems in their neighborhoods, reflect on some of the root problems and then come together to enact change.

Rodriguez has become a more active member of the organization over time. She cites graffiti removal and stop sign installations as ways the group has made her neighborhood a more pleasant place to live.

But things still aren’t perfect. Now that her rent is more stable, she’s more concerned about safety issues inside her home: mold in the upper corner of her bathroom that refuses to go away, a gaping hole in her ceiling from when a fire alarm was swapped out for one of a different size and a kitchen window with only heavy plastic for a pane.

Every time she tells her landlord about these problems, he sends someone out to fix them, but the work is quick and rudimentary at best. She finally got real windowpanes for her kitchen, but only after waiting more than a month with the plastic substitutes.

She’s not alone with her concerns about repairs. Around her neighborhood, the quick fixes are known as “Mickey Mouses.”

“Supposedly they come and fix the house, but they really don’t do a good job, just apparently it looks fixed, but it’s not really fixed. It’s all appearances,” Rodriguez said.

Laura Cuadros from Union de Vecinos works on community organizing related to tenants’ rights in Boyle Heights. She said the problem is not only the shoddy repairs, but also the equipment and trash inspectors and repairmen leave behind.

“It’s unsafe just to have this stuff lying around,” she said, pointing to a pile of twisted scrap metal and plywood in the yard of Rodriguez’s neighbor.

Rodriguez is happy to have her home and the support of Union de Vecinos. But she can’t help but worry about her kids. One night while she was sleeping, part of her ceiling began to crumble and fell onto her bed.

She motioned to her toddler sleeping soundlessly in a crib placed in a small walkway between her kitchen and living area. “What if the same thing were to happen again? How could I protect them?”

OPINION: A story of foreclosure and eviction

imageBy M.A. Currie

Recently, the news has exposed the unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent business practices of large financial institutions, which are rampant in today’s economic climate.

The local television news aired a story in late December about a lady who was awakened by someone breaking into her home and discovered it was the bank.

My children and I have faced similar battles in our fight against eviction.

We filed a civil lawsuit, May 27, 2010, as In Pro Per Litigants against a bank who claimed they purchased my home at a foreclosure sale and presented a Trustee’s Deed naming them as the new owner as of July 13, 2009. They actually were not the new owner, which I didn’t discover until the following December. The previous September, a “Corrective Trustee’s Deed Upon Sale” had been recorded, naming another bank as my true landlord.

Believing I had “Tenant Rights” according to Title-VII, the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009, SEC. 702 and the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance and taking a strong position against eviction resulted in the bank retaliating and subjecting my children and I to civil harassment and an overwhelming amount of grief in an attempt to force us to move involuntarily.

The harassment went from an overwhelming amount of frivolous notices and escalated to stolen mail, unannounced home visits from strangers, a home break-in, vandalism, stalking, lawsuits against my children and I. I even called the police out to my home on an incident and received no police protection.

Through it all, I got ill with both upper body pain and diagnosed with anxiety disorder. I received medical and psychiatric attention and was prescribed medication—which I no longer need—to continue fighting for my children’s and my rights.

In our civil case, there are four other defendants who conspired with the bank and I recently added the actual new owner who is responsible.

Experienced attorneys have teamed up against my adult daughter and I. The defendants have no strong defenses, so they choose to respond with a demurer, a motion to strike, or a motion to quash.

Having no law experience, I have been very busy researching and preparing oppositions supported by the California Code of Civil Procedures and Case Law.

During my court experiences, my assigned Judge has been prejudiced in her treatment toward us, and it appears to be progressively intentional, designed to make sure we lose our physical and emotional abilities to seek justice. Immediately upon observing this injustice, I filed an “Affidavit of Prejudice Peremptory Challenge to Judicial Officer” giving the Judge the opportunity to voluntarily take herself off my civil case. She denied the request.

Also, I hand delivered a letter I wrote to the Presiding Judge of the Court. As a result, I received a letter in late December from the Assistant Presiding Judge-Elect informing me that my letter has been forwarded to the Supervising Judge of the Civil Courts and she will be contacting me directly to address my request regarding assigning a new judge to my case. On January 12, 2011, the Supervising Judge wrote me a letter stating “I will be looking into the matters raised in your letter and will be responding to you in the near future.”

I am fighting for and my children’s and my rights and equal justice for all. The fight continues.

Read more about M.A. Currie’s fight against eviction at

Photo courtesy of Creative Commons