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In East Hollywood, Tenants Unite to Fight Evictions

A landlord and his attorney tried to file a restraining order against tenants fighting evictions, but the tenants and their union fought back.

LATU Protest
Organizers from the East Hollywood Local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union (PHOTO: Shelby Eggers)

On the 1100 block of North Madison Avenue, just a few blocks up from Santa Monica Boulevard, where East Hollywood converges with Silver Lake, sits the “fully renovated” Eleven55 residence. The building is advertised as being in a “prime location,” and as an “upgraded haven and an authentic living experience that’s true to Los Angeles.” It’s an indiscriminate East Hollywood apartment complex, and it’s been here since 1957 .  In LA, that means it is rent stabilized.

We had no say in determining this building’s value, nor did the folks actually living in this building, even the elderly woman who has lived here since 1997. No gold or unobtanium or ancient treasure was found below the concrete. It’s not a designated historic location, and to the best of our knowledge, no one famous wrote music or was mysteriously murdered at this site. Rather, it is valuable because APPA Real Estate says so. It’s a small patch of stolen Tongva land, a last vestige of potential profit in that has yet to be squeezed dry. So, the tenants have been told to get out, because there is money at stake.

Handwritten signs promising that “neighbors will defend each other” against eviction in the pursuit of profit. (PHOTO: West Valley People’s Alliance)

The investment firm APPA Real Estate was founded in 2013 — yes, the arbiter of “authentic living experience” has been in this city for about eight years. Its founder and CEO is Aaron Marzwell, who previously worked as the vice president of development at a New York private equity firm called CIM Group. Marzwell’s tenure there was marred by wage violations, and CIM Group was cited for illegal waste dumping, sued for gender discrimination, and investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for various worker deaths. Like many East Coast failures, Marzwell came out west and started a new company with the same grift. On Sept. 30, 2019, APPA Real Estate purchased the aforementioned N. Madison property for $4.1 million.

Marzwell’s taken the mask off, and his hustle is now both painfully lazy and brazenly obvious: he is getting tenants out of their homes so he can charge jacked-up “market rates” or demolish the building entirely. He’s confronting tenants and doing all this by himself — Marzwell is one of just two people on the “leadership team” of his firm. Landlords don’t need to legally disclose their names or connection to the property in this process, so Marzwell scurries to hide behind the APPA Real Estate title. The listing only names KIG Capital, a property management and investment group. Right now, you could move into an available 750-foot one-bedroom apartment for $2,210 per month. If your head spins processing our city’s massive unhoused population and ballooning rents, well, this is what it looks like up close: greedy, banal, tragic.

A flyer created by the East Hollywood Local chapter of Los Angeles Tenants Union (Courtesy of EHL, LATU)

The residents at this complex joined together to establish the N. Madison Tenants Association. In conjunction with the East Hollywood local of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, these folks are doing everything they can to combat the evictions and rising rents.

“It may be just one unit, but it’s emblematic of what’s happening in Los Angeles and across the country,” says Ren, an organizer with the East Hollywood local of LATU who requested Knock only use their first name due to the ongoing struggle. Ren estimates that rents in East Hollywood have increased by about 50 percent during the last five years. “This was, historically, a low-income neighborhood, due to redlining, divestment, and racial covenants.”

Marzwell first offered cash for keys to the occupants of the 16 RSO units, while swiftly revoking tenant access to their parking spaces and on-site storage units. For those who didn’t leave, he partnered with KIG Capital to open two separate eviction cases. From the jump, the whole process was hasty and questionable: these were no-fault evictions, because the tenants did not violate their lease. The only way a landlord can legally evict a tenant in California is to file an unlawful detainer suit and win a jury trial.

The N. Madison Tenants Association strapped up and organized around one demand: drop these phony evictions. Marzwell chose to not do that, instead securing the legal services of Dennis Block, a predatory eviction attorney who founded evict123.com. Together, they formed a tenant-harassing Voltron.

Landlord, Eviction123.com founder, and known tenant harasser Dennis Block (Photo via The Apartment Dealer)

“The tenants wanted to protest directly at the landlord’s house,” our source says. “These people are sneaky, hiding behind different names and private equity companies. I mean, they filed these evictions in December, when Los Angeles felt like the COVID capital of the country. These tenants just wanted to bring accountability to their landlord.”

Members and allies of the N. Madison Tenants Association first showed up to Marzwell’s house on Jan. 10. He refused to go outside or acknowledge the protesters. When folks reprised the effort in February and showed up to protest again, Marzwell and Block filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order, claiming they were fearful for their lives and their families. This motion was denied, because once again, Marzwell and friends failed to follow the rules. In addition to the lack of legitimate evidence, Marzwell and Block only notified folks of this restraining order in English, while the majority of the tenants speak Spanish. Furthermore, the lawsuit named alleged participants that were not at the February protest — the defendants just copied all the names from a prior petition regarding parking spot use.

According to Ren, the sloppy execution and ironically low-rent nature of the proceedings is not a mistake — it’s a brazen SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Marzwell and Block are mounting their slovenly intimidation campaign against organization efforts. Their actions make a clear statement: if tenants organize against eviction in any way, they will be tied up by an exhaustive, expensive and litigious system.

Last week, LA City Council’s Housing Committee advanced a tenant anti-harassment ordinance, which would codify illegal harassment from landlords. Councilmembers John Lee and Nithya Raman are adding conflicting amendments to the ordinance, with Raman wanting to make it easier for a tenant to claim tenant harassment is occurring and Lee’s amendment making it more difficult for the tenant to prove the same claim. The bill will likely receive a full City Council vote on April 28. But the legislative protections are not nearly enough, according to Ren.

“Once SB91 expires and the eviction moratorium ends, there will be no codified protections for tenants. It’s still an unjust and unequal housing system based on capital,” they say, adding that the so-called “moratorium” in California was really just a legal defense against eviction—Marzwell was still free to open the eviction cases and get the process going. “They’ll continue to harass tenants until they can’t get away with it. We don’t see the law as a level playing field.”

Tenants marching against unwarranted and hostile evictions. (PHOTO: Easy Hollywood Local, LATU)

As of this writing, the battle continues—a vanity project and typical day’s work for KIG Capital and Aaron Marzwell, but a scrap for livelihood for the N. Madison Tenants Association. Value calculations and fiscal projections are being made on people’s homes, with relatively thin resistance or protection. It’s depressingly cyclical, fronting from one fraudulent LLC to the next as neighborhoods are selectively pillaged. Aaron Marzwell is not uniquely odious, and he’s not a final boss. Leeches from Ivy League universities and Paul Verhoeven sci-fi movie villain huckster landlords will respawn as long as the system incentivizes profit over human dignity. Hyperlocal solidarity remains the only viable option. Organize your apartment complex, talk to your neighbors, join or support the East Hollywood local, and show up in solidarity with the N. Madison Tenants Association.