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Los Angeles Tenant’s Union Prepares to Resist Sheriffs in Eviction

Organizers gathered to block an eviction by the Beaumont Company and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

An outdoor apartment staircase that has handwritten signs on the wall as the stairs go up including "Hollywood is here to stay," "Sin Trabjao No Hay Renta" and "Evictions are Inherently Violent"
An outdoor apartment staircase that has handwritten signs on the wall as the stairs go up including “Hollywood is here to stay,” “Sin Trabjao No Hay Renta” and “Evictions are Inherently Violent”

When Daniel Levek unknowingly missed his rent payment in March of 2019, he had no idea the lengthy legal battle that lay ahead. Now, in August 2020 — after 15 months of fighting his eviction in a difficult-to-navigate court system — Levek is facing homelessness at the hands of his landlord and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

“I pleaded for my life. I told them, ‘You’re sending somebody to the street who’s not going to do very well there,’” said Levek, who is on the Autism spectrum. “It’s really devastating to have your life literally dismissed.”

A group of activists with the Los Angeles Tenants’ Union (LATU) organized outside of Levek’s apartment to block the eviction. LASD indicated the previous day that deputies would arrive to change Levek’s locks between noon and 5 PM. Around 40 activists gathered on the sidewalk and lined up along the driveway of his apartment complex, waiting for law enforcement to arrive.

“The hard thing for us is not the decision to do this or the risks we’re taking,” said a LATU activist named Colin. “We organize with the unhoused, but we want to prevent our members from getting to that point. Basically we’ve been forced into this position.”

The mood was anticipatory but friendly. LATU placed signs on telephone poles and chalked messages on sidewalks, alerting the neighborhood to the coming eviction. Neighbors were largely supportive — they brought out cases of water and honked, some with fists raised, as they drove by.

A sign saying "Your neightbor is being evicted during a pandemic!"
A sign posted to a lightpost reads “Your Neighbor is Being Evicted During A Pandemic!” (PHOTO: Bailey Benningfield)

Tony Ramirez, another organizer with LATU, explained the situation to Levek’s fellow tenants.

“Everyone was pretty much shocked this is happening,” Ramirez explained.

Levek’s legal troubles began when his former landlord passed away around 2007. In 2010, Louis Vista LLC bought the building where Levek resides, which is managed by the Beaumont Company.

In recent years, Levek says he and his neighbors have experienced growing pressure from Louis Vista to leave their apartments. The property is on the border of Hollywood and West Hollywood, where the median monthly rent for a one bedroom is $2,395.

Because Levek’s building was constructed in 1954, it’s subject to rent-control laws that limit how much landlords can increase a unit’s price. Levek lived in his apartment for nearly 20 years and was paying well below market rate.

Pink and green chalk on a driveway that says "YOUR NEIGHBOR IS BEING EVICTED 1339 N VISTA" with an arrow pointing to the left
Activists warn that neighbors are being evicted with chalk-written messages around the neighborhood (PHOTO: Bailey Benningfield)

So Levek believes that when he accidentally missed his rent payment in March of 2019, his landlord seized on the opportunity to evict him and increase the price of his unit. Levek says the management company never alerted him to his missed payment, even though he paid on time for the entirety of his 20-year residency.

“I got the eviction notice out of the blue. I thought it was a joke. After 20 years, you would think they’d tell me if there was an issue with a payment. That didn’t happen,” said Levek.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the City of Los Angeles instituted a ban on COVID-related evictions. The Sheriff’s department stopped carrying out evictions entirely, even for cases that predated the ban. Courts won’t reopen until September 2, and the pandemic rages on.

Regardless, the Sheriff’s department has resumed enforcement, potentially leaving the over 1,000 Angelenos currently stuck in eviction backlog limbo with nowhere to shelter in place. When courts reopen, up to 365,000 households could face eviction.

When a landlord evicts a tenant, they pay the Sheriff’s department to act as their personal armed enforcement. For sheriffs to execute a Writ of Possession, landlords must pay a $145 deposit, with additional fees at each phase of the process. A major part of LATU’s goal in blocking the Sheriff’s department is to make evictions as time-consuming and costly as possible.

“I think it’s become very clear there is no solution to the crisis of eviction that’s going to come from politicians or courtrooms or posting on Twitter. It’s going to require us as tenants to gum up the system and prevent it from functioning as it should,” said Colin.

Roughly 10 people sit and stand in the shady spots of an apartment driveway holding signs and preparing to ward off LASD deputies during evictions.
LATU Activists prepare for a potential eviction. (PHOTO: Bailey Benningfield)

By the time 5 PM rolled around, the Sheriff’s department hadn’t shown up to forcibly remove Levek. When they eventually do, Levek — like over 66,000 other Angelenos — will be homeless. He has started moving his belongings and is asking his landlord for two more months to find a new apartment.

The Beaumont Company and LASD did not respond when reached for comment.

Although there was no confrontation between LATU and LASD this Tuesday, Colin believes LATU and its organizers sent an important message to tenants that they can and should organize in their own communities:

“Realistically, we know this probably isn’t going to stop sheriffs from locking Dan out. The chief goal is to keep the person in their home, but I would say the secondary goal is to inspire this to start happening elsewhere.”

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