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The Fight for AgLago Co-Op: How a Massive Development Company Meticulously Laid the Groundwork to Demolish a Silver Lake Community Hub 

For over 15 years, AgLago Co-Op’s residents cooked fresh meals for Skid Row, handed out water during heat waves, and much more. Now, duplicitous practices on behalf of Frost/Chaddock Developers mean it’s facing demolition, but tenants are fighting back.

Residents Jeremy, Donnie, Vita, Josh, Revé and Arden sit on the front porch steps of the house. The sign Jeremy holds reads "AgLago", a combination of silver's periodic table symbol and "lake" in Spanish. July 2023. Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA
Residents Jeremy, Donnie, Vita, Josh, Revé, and Arden sit on the front porch steps of the house. The sign Jeremy holds reads “AgLago,” a combination of silver’s periodic table symbol and “lake” in Spanish. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

For over 15 years, AgLago Co-Op has been a staple of the Silver Lake community. Associated with organizations like the Bicycle Kitchen, LA Eco-Village, and Food Not Bombs, the house is a community hub for local activists and artists. Now they’re facing eviction. 

“If you say the Food Not Bombs house anywhere in the city, there’s an understanding there’s support and solidarity that can be found in that space,” Sarah, a current resident of AgLago Co-Op (who asked we omit her last name) told Knock LA. “Whatever city it is, wherever you are. That’s what our house is in a broader context as well.” 

Food Not Bombs is a mutual aid organization that cooks and distributes free, healthy meals to community members, many of whom are unhoused or low-income. One of their core principles is that food is a human right, a notion the United States itself opted not to support in a 2021 United Nations vote. According to another AgLago resident, Jeremy (who also asked his last name be omitted), “Food not Bombs has served a free vegan meal every Sunday for 15 years.” 

“We do a lot of different things,” Sarah added. “We helped to distribute water during the heat waves through our friends Solidarity and Snacks. Everyone that lives here lives with the intention of sharing resources. Every Sunday dozens of people come and cook a bunch of fresh food to get down to Skid Row.”

Storai, a resident of AgLago and Food Not Bombs volunteer, helps prepare the weekly meal. July 2023.
Storai, a resident of AgLago and Food Not Bombs volunteer, helps prepare the weekly meal. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

Not only does AgLago provide reasonable rent in a city that’s rapidly losing affordable housing, but it also holds emotional significance for its residents. 

“I’ve lived in LA my entire life,” Jeremy told Knock LA, “and I’ve been always pushing around trying to find housing. Like, this is one of the closest things to home I’ve had probably most of my life.”

Unfortunately, AgLago House is now in danger. 

On April 5, 2023, tenants woke up to find a Notice of Demolition on their home, followed on May 12 by a Notice to Vacate. This decision by Junction Gateway LLC, a subsidiary of Frost/Chaddock Developers LLC, came after months of tenant complaints regarding serious habitability issues, including a caved-in roof. 

Complex behind-the-scenes legal maneuvering coupled with ambiguity built into LA’s municipal code has created a convoluted situation where tenants rights are unclear. However, AgLago residents remain committed to saving their home.  

A flyer announcing a community barbecue for AgLago, the Food Not Bombs house. July 2023.
A flyer announcing a community barbecue for AgLago, the Food Not Bombs house, hangs on the fridge. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

A Timeline of Events

AgLago tenants say Frost/Chaddock has failed to maintain their property for years. Serious issues arose in February 2020 when tenants reported a roof leak. When maintenance came that March, their repairs consisted of placing a tarp on the roof held down by heavy sandbags. While tenants were told a professional roofer would contact them soon, they never received any follow-up. By December, the sandbags had hardened into rocks, some of which were precariously balanced near the edge of the roof. Concerned for their safety, tenants resorted to removing the sandbags themselves. 

By February 2023, the previously reported habitability issues had become more serious. The ceiling — which had been leaking on and off since 2020 — collapsed during the heavy rainfall. When a plumber visited their home to clear a main line blockage, he notified tenants of a severely damaged main line near their home that required extensive repairs. 

While Frost/Chaddock was notified several times of these issues, the repairs they made were largely Band-Aid fixes such as patching up the drywall and tarping the roof again. On March 2, 2023, AgLago tenants sent a request for urgent repairs. Less than a month later, on March 29, Frost/Chaddock submitted a permit for demolition to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety. As of the writing of this article, the permit is still pending. 

Frost/Chaddock has a documented history of demolishing culturally significant buildings, often in a clandestine fashion. In summer 2011, Frost/Chaddock ordered the owners of a row of storefronts at 4008 W Santa Monica Blvd. to vacate. These storefronts included several historically notable shops, including the original location of A Different Light Bookstore, the first in a chain of four LGBTQ+ bookstores located across the United States. Work was already underway to deem the shop a historical landmark. 

In response to community concern about the fate of 4008 W Santa Monica, Frost/Chaddock met with City Council District staff and neighborhood council representatives on August 24, 2011. At this meeting, representatives claimed there were zero plans for demolition. However, Frost/Chaddock filed demolition permits that same day and bulldozed the block in September. 

Adjacent to AgLago, an empty lot sits where previously, historical buildings were demolished by Frost/Chaddock Developers, LLC. July 2023.
Adjacent to AgLago, an empty lot sits where previously, historical buildings were demolished by Frost/Chaddock Developers LLC. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

4008 W Santa Monica Blvd. is just across the street from AgLago Co-Op. According to a letter the tenants sent to CD 13 City Councilmember Hugo Soto-Martínez, the area has remained largely unused since the demolition. It’s surrounded by plywood advertisements and often used as a dumping ground for trash and abandoned items. 

Jeremy fears the same fate for AgLago, stating, “I highly suspect this house will just lay dormant if not demolished or be an empty lot for like a decade or so.” 

“They’ve done everything in their power to strip us of our rights.”

After receiving the Notice of Demolition and subsequent Notice to Vacate, AgLago tenants did their own research, gathering legal documents related to their home such as leases, tax assessor paperwork, and deeds. This investigation led them to a startling discovery: Frost/Chaddock had been laying the legal groundwork to evict them for over a year. As Sarah put it, “They’ve done everything in their power to strip us of rights as tenants.” 

Jeremy uncovered month-by-month tax assessor records, which Knock LA has reviewed. Dating back to at least 2003, the documents classified AgLago under use code 0800, indicating the house was legally considered a boarding/rooming house. However, a March 31, 2023, tax assessor record showed the code had suddenly changed to use code 0100, indicating a single-family residence. 

Arden, a resident at AgLago reads legal documents pertaining to the eviction threat. July 2023.
Arden, a resident at AgLago, reads legal documents pertaining to the eviction threat. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

Single-family homes are not covered under the Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), an important piece of legislation that impacts everything from rent increases to eviction proceedings. AgLago’s 2022 lease included a legal stipulation saying the property is “not subject to rent limits.”

Technically, the owner of AgLago House is John Frost, listed on the Frost/Chaddock website as General Counsel for the company. According to a Grant Deed provided to Knock LA, Market Square LLC transferred ownership of AgLago to Frost in 2006. In this deed, Frost/Chaddock Developers LLC has been crossed out and replaced with “John M. Frost, a Single Man.” 

However, regardless of whether Frost is the owner by technicality, Frost/Chaddock and Junction Gateway are largely responsible for the building. Sarah provided Knock LA with three leases from 2016, 2018, and 2020. The landlord/lessor is listed as “Junction Gateway LLC” and, according to Sarah, their property manager’s email is under the domain “@frostchaddock.com.” 

Under the Ellis Act, a 1985 state law, landlords can legally evict tenants when removing units from the rental market. For buildings covered under the RSO, tenants subjected to Ellis Act evictions are entitled to relocation assistance and at least 120 days notice to vacate. (By comparison, AgLago residents received 60 days notice.) Additionally, a lower amount of relocation assistance is required for Mom and Pop properties. Both Sarah and Jeremy expressed concern that John Frost being listed as AgLago’s only owner could be Frost/Chaddock’s attempt to qualify for Mom and Pop status in the event the company is subjected to the RSO despite reclassifying their home. 

However, even without RSO protections, AgLago’s tenants are still protected under the Just Cause Ordinance (JCO). The JCO prohibits terminations of tenancies without just cause and requires relocation assistance for no-fault evictions — even for buildings not covered under the RSO. The amount of relocation assistance depends on a variety of factors. For a single-family home, it’s typically one month’s rent, but factors like disability and income can qualify tenants for more compensation. 

AgLago, as seen from the driveway. July 2023.
AgLago House is pictured from the driveway. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

Currently, Frost/Chaddock is offering $9,000 in relocation assistance to be split between 10 housemates. However, tenants with disabilities are considered qualified tenants, entitling them to additional compensation (more than double what Frost/Chaddock is offering). Any tenant with an income below 80% of the median income in a given area is also entitled to more money. Many AgLago housemates meet the qualification to be considered low-income, and one housemate is disabled, making the $9,000 insufficient under the JCO. Moreover, under the RSO, each tenant would be entitled to their own individual payout instead of a lump sum. 

AgLago’s housemates were unaware of any legal changes regarding their house’s classification. It was only upon going through legal paperwork that they found the 2022 notice on their lease saying the property was not subject to rent limits. The representative who presented the housemates with the new lease was not forthright about any changes at the time. 

“It was during the pandemic,” Sarah said. “Someone gathered us, came, said, ‘Here’s your lease that’s just like your old one.’ And we signed it because people have been doing that for 15 years here, and yeah, it was like a totally different lease and they knew exactly what they were doing.”

“We were nervous to ask questions or to not sign it because we wanted to live comfortably in our home,” said Jeremy. “But it seems pretty clear that they’ve been setting it up to strip us of all of our rights.”

“Hypothetically, even if they were allowed to evict us this fast,” Sarah said, “a bigger question is why? In such a dire housing market, why kick 10 people out of affordable housing when there isn’t even an approved permit for demolition, let alone a plan for redevelopment?” 

‘If it looks like a duck…

Knock LA spoke to Daniel J. Bramzon, executive director of BASTA, a nonprofit organization that provides eviction defense and other services to low-income individuals and families. Bramzon said it’s highly unusual to reclassify a home from a boarding house to a single-family home. In fact, Bramzon has never actually seen this before. 

“It’s definitely uncommon if I’ve never heard of it,” Bramzon said. “I’ve been in the game for over 20 years.” 

According to Bramzon, one reason it’s uncommon is that it’s legally risky for landlords. 

“You’ve got 10 different families in any structure, it’s a boarding house,” he said. “You either register it as a boarding house, you’re OK as a landlord. Or you don’t register it. As a landlord, you could get sued by the tenant.”

The main hallway of AgLago as seen from the front door. Residents store their bikes on a bike rack here. Residents Jeremy and Revé are shown in the background. July 2023.
The main hallway of AgLago is pictured from the front door. Residents store their bikes on a bike rack here. Residents Jeremy and Revé are shown in the background. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)

John Frost is listed as legal counsel for Frost/Chaddock, which Bramzon thinks might have played into the company’s decision to reclassify AgLago Co-Op. 

“He’s a lawyer — that explains a lot of this,” Bramzon said. “He thinks he’s too smart. He’s trying to pull a maneuver, a legal technicality to get around rent control. On paper, to a layperson, the paperwork would seem to indicate to the tenants that they got to go. But almost any tenants rights attorney just takes a quick second look and is going to find out the switcheroo is one not helpful to the landlord.”

Frost/Chaddock could possibly argue AgLago’s tenants meet the definition of a family according to LA Municipal Code and therefore the house qualifies as a single-family home. The definition of a family is subject to interpretation. The municipal code stipulates that meeting the “functional equivalent of a traditional family” requires a group of people to share household responsibilities, expenses, and common areas. 

At the end of the day, a lot comes down to the interpretation of the law, and Sarah is prepared to argue AgLago still qualifies as a rooming house. 

“It was a rooming house while we all lived there so how could they change it with the same tenants and structure?” she said. 

According to Bramzon, the Los Angeles Housing Department may have not investigated AgLago’s reclassification thoroughly enough to ask these same questions. 

“The Housing Department does not always do on-site verifications in the process of registering units or apartments or houses,” he said. “The Housing Department is generally quite overwhelmed and doing its best with the resources it has.” 

Bramzon thinks the home is definitively a boarding house, saying that “If it looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck. This is a multifamily structure. It looks like one because you have 10 people in there. It was registered as one. You can’t make a duck into a pig, and that’s what they’re kind of doing here.”

The only reason, according to Bramzon, for claiming AgLago is a single-family home is to evade their obligations to longtime tenants as landlords. 

“I can’t imagine a legitimate reason for a landlord to change the status of an occupied boarding house to a single-family dwelling unless they were trying to pull a fast one to dodge tenants rights protections,” he said. 

Going Forward 

Despite the pending Notice to Vacate, AgLago residents remain committed to preserving their home and its larger cultural significance in the community. 

“The fact that this place still exists is so rare,” Sarah said. “Anyone who comes into our house that has a relationship to radical politics or DIY culture/subculture is like, ‘Wow this feels like home. This feels like something that I didn’t even know existed anymore.’ It’s a really special thing and it’s just really tragic that we’re just up against such evil.”

While Soto-Martínez has yet to respond to AgLago House’s letter, they’ve been in touch with CD 13 Field Deputy Regina Mallare, who Jeremy says has been extremely helpful. They have set up a GoFundMe to fund any legal fees and are currently seeking representation to ensure the city protects their rights as tenants. 

“We’re not a family, but we’re a community,” Jeremy said, “and we have rights. We plan to stay.”

Frost/Chaddock did not respond to requests for comment from Knock LA.

Food Not Bombs volunteers making the weekly meal for unhoused and/or low-income Los Angeles residents. July 2023.
Food Not Bombs volunteers make the weekly meal for unhoused and/or low-income Los Angeles residents. July 2023. (Photo: Ben Camacho | Knock LA)