• A brick colored apartment building

      The apartment complex that Andreea and Sal live in on Primrose Ave. in Alhambra (Photo – Sean McMorris)

      Alhambra tenants, Andreea T. and Sal P., delivered impassioned pleas to the Alhambra City Council at multiple city council meetings in November 2019. They live in the same apartment complex off of Main Street and Primrose Ave. in Alhambra.

      By Sean McMorris

      Prior to 2020, a tenant in California could be evicted without cause and there was no limit on the amount a landlord could raise a tenant’s rent. All the tenants in the complex in which Sal and Andreea live received rent increases of hundreds of dollars in June 2019 and then eviction notices three months later.

      Sal is disabled and lives with his retired mother on a fixed income. Andreea lives alone and works full time as a direct service provider at a group home. Both households barely get by, with the bulk of their incomes committed to rent.

      Eviction for Andreea and Sal and his mother means potential catastrophe. They will likely have to pay hundreds more per month in rent if they have to move, and relocating alone (with deposits and moving and storage fees) will cost thousands. Given these lived realities, Andreea and Sal and his mother are faced with one of three options: downsizing to a studio apartment, uprooting and commuting hours a day, or homelessness. This is what they conveyed in emails to the mayor and then the city council in November.

      Relief amidst a crisis

      California is in the midst of the greatest housing crisis in a generation. There are many contributing variables to the crisis and no quick fixes. Correspondingly, homelessness has spiked in L.A. County. With rents out of reach for more and more Californians, residents are left with stark choices: uproot, live on the streets, or double-up with sympathetic friends and family.

      State legislatures have been mostly unsuccessful in addressing the housing crisis, but they did pass one piece of legislation that provides some relief for California tenants beginning on January 1, 2020: AB 1482, or the Tenant Protection Act of 2019, prevents rent gauging and unjust evictions (see summary details of the law here).

      The law was passed by the California Assembly in September 2019—the same month Sal, his mother, and Andreea received their eviction notices—and signed by Governor Newsom in October. Because the state legislature could not muster enough votes to have the law take effect immediately, landlords were granted ample time to evict tenants without cause before the new restrictions took hold.

      Andreea and her neighbors thought the passage of AB 1482 had saved them from eviction. Andreea said:

      We were kind of naive. We thought, ‘Oh it [AB 1482] is going to protect us. We didn’t really understand that period between September and January. It was like this weird loophole.’

      There is a retroactivity clause for the rent control portion of AB 1482; after January 1, 2020, significant rent hikes imposed after February 2019 revert back to an increase of no more than 5% plus the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or 10% total, whichever is lower. That said, many tenants who saw their rents increase significantly in 2019 were unable to stick around and bear the temporary financial burden until January 1 when the reversion kicked in. In addition, no such retroactivity clause exists for the just-cause eviction portion of AB 1482.

      Consequently, tenant rights groups saw a significant uptick in evictions without cause and large rent increases (another way to evict) across California once it became clear that some version of AB 1482 would pass. To fill that tenant vulnerability gap, dozens of cities passed temporary no-fault eviction moratoriums and other tenant protection laws (see list of cities here).

      On November 11, 2019, the Alhambra City Council passed an emergency ordinance to enact AB 1482 early. By enacting AB 1482 early, Alhambra tenants who received an eviction notice and are still on the premises or fighting the eviction in court are protected.

      Tenant Protection Laws being ignored

      The relief came just in time for Andreea, Sal, and his mother Diana, who would have had to be out of their units by November 15, 2019 pursuant to their 60-day evicition.

      At least they thought they had relief. Andreea and Sal’s new landlord is Candelabra Real Estate, LLC, which is owned and operated by Brian Tabaroki, who is associated with numerous other Candelabra LLCs. Candelabra decided not to recognize the City’s ordinance and took Andreea and Sal’s mother, Diana, to court.

      Andreea and Diana were served with unlawful detainers in November 2019 after Alhambra’s early implementation of AB 1482. They continued to submit rent payments to Alhambra on Main, LLC, a property management company that is also owned and operated by Brian Tabaroki, but their rent checks were not being cashed. Once they were served papers, reality sunk in: even good laws are not a silver bullet if you can’t afford a lawyer to uphold them if they are ignored or challenged in court—something that can play into a landlord’s hands.

      “You have to get an attorney,” said an exasperated Sal, “What if you can’t afford an attorney? I’m disabled. I get a check from the state of California. My mother is my payee.”

      Fortunately, pro bono and public interest law firms have stepped up to provide legal aid to tenants facing eviction in the lead up to AB 1482’s implementation. The Housing Right’s Center put Andreea and Diana in touch with Neighborhood Legal Services of L.A., who took on the trio’s cases. “The lawyer there texted me through this process,” Andreea said, “He was like our eviction coach.”

      Little guidance from City Hall

      Even though Andreea and Sal were grateful that Alhambra implemented AB 1482 early, they felt that City Hall could have been more helpful after the fact. They never received a notice about the City’s emergency ordinance and its implications for tenants and landlords. They were left to their own devices to interpret and navigate the new law. When they reached out to City Hall for assistance regarding their rights under the ordinance, they were told little more than to seek advice from The Housing Rights Center or an attorney. “That’s the legal system,” Andreea said. “When I contacted the city attorney and the mayor they said that the city attorney only creates city ordinances. They don’t get involved with the public’s legal situations.”

      Alhambra’s website currently has a link to a one-page FAQ about the emergency ordinance buried in the City Clerk page. The link simply states: “Urgency Ordinance No. O2M19-4671.” It is safe to assume that most people are not going to know what that is. City Manager, Jessica Binnquist, did not respond to ColoradoBoulevard.net‘s request for comment on outreach and tenant assistance regarding the ordinance.

      Andreea Said:

      All of this confusion benefits the property owners. These lawyers, they’re used to going to court. But the little guys like us, we don’t know.

      “The state passed the new law then the City passed this ordinance that states we are protected, so we shouldn’t feel stress that we are being evicted now,” Sal stated. “By going through all these other channels to figure out what our rights are, it took a lot out of us.”

      Raise the rent, if they pay, evict!

      I met with Andreea outside of Top’s Jr. on Main Street and Primrose Avenue, directly next to the apartment complex in which Andreea and Sal live. Andreea walked me around the outside of the two-story complex before we went inside to meet Sal and his mother. The building is old and looked run down. A couple of small businesses occupy the ground floor with 8 apartments on the second floor.

      Sal and his mother Diana met us at the top of the stairs. Repairs were being done on their unit so we sat in Andreea’s apartment to talk. It was small but cozy, and had a view of Main Street. The building is within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

      Diana is thin with long hair and a soft voice. I remembered seeing her at the city council hearing for the emergency ordinance. She was reserved then and now. She had prepared a written statement that she read to me outlining her situation beginning in April 2019, when the new owners, Candelabra Real Estate, LLC, assumed management of the rental properties. In June, her rent was raised $475, from $850 to $1,325 per month. Her September rent payment of $1,325 cleared on the 15th. She had a 60-day eviction notice taped to her door on September 16. They were to vacate the premises by November 15, but stayed because Alhambra had instituted the emergency ordinance on November 11. They received a notice of illegal detainer on November 27 and were due in court on December 27.

      Diana’s son, Sal, noted that his mother had lived in the building for 30 years (Sal has lived with her for 20 of those years).  Sal said that the previous building management company had lost all of Diana’s rental agreement paperwork, along with proof of deposit and monthly receipts. Sal also said that new management had falsely documented that his mother was paying $150 more per month in rent than she actually was before it raised her rent to $1,325.

      “I just want people to realize that these are bad tactics. This is bad faith, and this isn’t right,” Sal said. “Hopefully, this will expose bad landlords. They need to take care of their apartments. They need to have their records for tenants and they need to be in law-abiding order.”

      Before Candelabra Real Estate, LLC bought the building, the units were owned and operated by a Mom and Pop outfit. Andreea was paying $1,350 per month for a one-bedroom in the complex. It was raised to $1,525 when Candelabra Real Estate, LLC took over. Sal and Diana were only paying $850 per month, but they claim that their apartment had not been up to code for quite some time. Sal showed me pictures and videos of disrepair that they have lived with for years: a boarded up window, cracks and holes in the walls and ceiling, roaches, and deteriorating floorboards.

      “I don’t want to say, ‘slum lord’,” Andreea said, referring to the previous owners, “but the building was not maintained.”

      Alhambra on Main, LLC, Candelabra’s property management company, initially ignored the repairs too but were now addressing them with Sal and Diana’s pending litigation. If the two wanted to seek damages for the code violations, however, they were told that they would have to retain a second lawyer who specializes in such matters.

      A borded window in an apartment building

      A board on the back window of one of the Alhambra apartments in the Primrose Ave. complex (Photo – Sean McMorris)

      Circumventing AB 1482

      According to Sal, when he and Diana protested their $475 rent increase, new management told them they could raise the rent to whatever they wanted. “I disagree with the aspect of stating that you can raise the rent to whatever figure you want,” Sal said.”That hurt a lot of people. And a lot of people had to move.”

      But Sal and his mother paid the rent increase. They could not afford to uproot. “We said that if that’s the law then we’ll pay you the rent, but just make sure you get this apartment up to code,” Sal said he told them. “Is that too much to ask?”

      Sal, Diana, and Andreea all chose to stay in their units even after the rent hikes, but they are the exceptions. Most of the tenants in their building left after they received notice of a significant rent increase from the new owner. “A lot of people moved out because they couldn’t afford the rent increase,” Andreea said. “They tried to stay but they were paying hundreds more a month. They could not afford to wait until the new law kicked in on January 1, which would regress their rent back [to a 5% increase in their previous rent plus inflation].”

      That was likely the plan all along. Those who stayed in the building and paid the rent increases got eviction notices anyway—as did numerous other long-term tenants across the state as many landlords rushed to preempt AB 1482.

      “The fact that there was this loophole is bad,” Andreea said, referring to the three-month gap between passage and actual implementation of AB 1482, “but that’s how they got the bill passed,” Andreea said resignedly. “It was a quid pro quo. Now we know that.”

      Sadly, even if Andreea and Diana win their court cases, they still can be legally evicted without cause under AB 1482. Their landlord will have to pay them one month’s rent to defray relocation costs, but many believe such a penalty is not enough to deter landlords from evicting tenants if the trade-off is the ability to charge hundreds more per month in rent.

      The irony is not lost on Andreea , Sal, and Diana. “The problem is, for all these years, Alhambra never had rent control laws,” lamented Andreea. “The state law forced Alhambra to have rent control. They never came up with any of this.”

      Making matters worse, Alhambra has very little affordable housing and nearly all of what they do have is restricted to seniors. The waitlist for affordable housing in the region is typically years long.

      Andreea said their lawyer at Neighborhood Legal Services was upfront with them about AB 1482 not being strong enough to protect them. “He told us that what Alhambra needs is a rent control law with relocation assistance like the City of L.A. because even now [under AB 1482] if we have to move we only get one month’s relocation fee. That’s not an incentive for the landlord to stop the process [of evicting without cause].” Nor does it cover the full cost of relocation.

      Andreea’s lawyer was referring to Los Angeles’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), which prohibits no-fault evictions except under certain circumstances, and then the landlord must pay relocation fees based on the tenant’s income and/or length of tenancy, not on one month’s rent. Depending on whether a resident is a Qualified or Eligible tenant, L.A.’s 2019-2020 relocation fees are anywhere from $8,200 to $21,200—likely enough to give most landlords pause before they evict a tenant without cause.

      A settlement and an uncertain future

      On December 27, 2019, Andreea and Diana’s day in court came and went. Five days before January 1, the parties settled out of court. Andreea, Diana, and Sal are to be out of their apartments by March 1, 2020, but will receive 4 months free rent (November—March).

      Afterward, I communicated with Sal and Andreea via email and text message.

      Andreea told me:

      Our lawyer negotiated a settlement in just 20 minutes outside the courtroom after two months of eviction process. He advised that the owners would find a way to evict us even if the judge dismissed our case and then the relocation fees would only be one month’s rent with the new state law.

      Andreea seemed taken aback by the swiftness of the settlement process after months of stress and uncertainty:

      It’s crazy because all these months nothing happened but they did everything in like 30 minutes yesterday.

      Even though Andreea was agreeable to the terms of the settlement, she was not celebrating the outcome by any means. “So, I guess that’s how we reached a settlement,” Andreea concluded. “Now Diana and Sal have money to move out and hopefully find an affordable place.”

      Sal was clearly unhappy with the settlement. He was hoping to stay in the unit that he and his mother had lived in for decades. “I never signed off,” Sal said, referring to the settlement agreement. Even though Sal and Diana share the rent, the lease is in her name, so Sal was not a party to the settlement.

      Andreea confided that it was a bittersweet victory. “it’s mixed feelings,” she said. “Sal and I wanted to go in front of the judge to address ordinance violations and damages.” But at the end of the day, Andreea seemed to understand that they were facing a long and costly uphill battle. It was time to cut ties and move on.

      Uncertain future

      Where the three will end up is uncertain, but it likely won’t be Alhambra. RentCafe.com, a nationwide internet listing service, lists the average rent for an apartment in Alhambra at $2,182.

      “The rents are just too high here,” lamented Andreea. “I can’t afford $1,500 a month for rent.” Before her rent was increased, Andreea was paying $1,350 for her one-bedroom in a run-down, decades-old complex. “I probably can’t afford a one-bedroom,” she said.  “I’ll probably have to move into a studio. If you have one income in the city of Alhambra, you can’t afford to live in a one-bedroom.”

      As for Sal, he’s not done fighting. He believes he still has recourse but did not want to discuss it on the record.

      One thing is for certain, Andreea, Sal, and Diana are not the only tenants in the area facing an uncertain future due to the housing crisis. Their plight is shared by thousands regionally who have seen their livelihoods deteriorate, despite the rosy economy.

      A personal note
      There is no silver bullet to California's housing crisis, but something has to give. It is my humble opinion that the state and municipalities need bold leaders who are willing to fight for affordable housing policies—including rent control—even if it means moneyed interest and NIMBY backlash.
      California's future is worth more than a minority of deep-pocketed rent-seekers who benefit the longer the housing crisis drags on.

      Let’s hope the future gets brighter soon for the Andreeas, Sals, and Dianas of the world.

      > Candelabra, LLC and Alhambra on Main, LCC, were contacted but declined to comment for this story.

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      1. Brian Chang Tabrok says:

        Alhambra did not have any rent control. These tenants got 5 months of free rent instead of 1 month mandated by the state. They got 4 months extra for free as a courtesy. Also, ColoradoBoulevard.Net or Sean McMorris did not reach out or contact us at all. Very one sided and misguided article. Brian Chang Tabrok

        • Sean McMorris says:

          Mr. Tabrok, Alhambra instituted AB 1482 (rent control) early, which applied to your property in Alhambra. The outcome of the court settlement is noted in the article. In addition, as noted at the bottom of the article, I did contact your two LCCs associated with this property and named in the court papers. The lady I spoke with said that the phone number I called was for the offices of both LLCs and that she, nor anyone else associated with the property, would comment on the matter. Your party was offered the opportunity to comment before publication but declined.

      2. #AB1482 is not strong enough protection for the renters getting evicted. One month’s rent as a relocating fee is not enough. It costs at least 2-3x that amount just to put a deposit on a new rental @LACityCouncil please implement something stronger #evictionmoratorium @MayorOfLA


      3. Alhambrans Against 710 says:

        Have you seen this moratorium for any San Gabriel Valley resident? https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfiuCKOUsSq1TAtbTQaTLZFWMR4Bq-WpQUtIzifx7kUjGSMlQ/viewform?usp=send_form

        • Nance Hope Parry says:

          I got Duarte to initiate a moratorium on evictions a couple of months ago. But now, the unethical landlord is trying to evict me again – retaliatory eviction (for stopping him before)!

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