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From Despair to Hope, Tenants March in Koreatown

What happens when the same landlord harasses tenants at multiple apartment complexes in Highland Park and Koreatown?

(Credit: Josh Rosen | KNOCK.LA)

On the evening of November 15, tenants from the 5635 Monte Vista and the 249 South Avenue 55 tenants associations gathered for a rally and march at Seoul Park with members of the Northeast and VyBe locals of the Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU); together they demanded K3 Holdings immediately cease their attempts to circumvent rent stabilization through cash buyouts (commonly called “cash for keys”), stop harassing tenants who refuse such buyouts, and finish repairs to the building, especially for longstanding tenants.

Chanting “¡Comida si, renta no!” over 100 tenants marched from Seoul Park to two other nearby apartment complexes owned by K3 Holdings, where they shared stories of their mistreatment and encouraged residents to form tenants associations of their own. They first marched to 727 S. Mariposa, purchased by K3 Holdings LLC this summer, and then they marched to 932 Irolo.

“When you don’t understand your rights as a tenant, it’s very easy to just take the word of a landlord,” said Brian Isaacs, 34, of the 249 South 55 Tenants Association. “When they’re trying to push something on you, it’s very persuasive, and makes you feel nervous because it’s your word against theirs. But when the LA Tenants Union showed up, they taught us what our rights actually are, and we feel empowered to exercise them. That gave us hope.”

 

(Credit: Josh Rosen | KNOCK.LA)

According to Isaacs, K3 Holdings began aggressively pushing tenants to accept cash deals to voluntarily vacate their apartments after they bought his building in 2019, to the point of harassment. K3 Holdings can raise rents on RSO units to market rate if the current tenant voluntarily leaves or accepts a cash for keys agreement. Presently, around half the tenants of 249 South Avenue 55, a 40-unit complex, have accepted such offers, and remaining tenants say K3 Holdings have threatened them with lawsuits if they won’t leave.

“I’m here to support the march because the tenants association has allowed me to keep my apartment,” said Alma Angel, a single mother in the 249 Tenants Association who has lived in her unit for 23 years.

Shortly after purchasing 249 South Avenue 55 in 2019, K3 Holdings offered Angel $100,000 to move, but she refused, worried that accepting such a sum would cause her two kids in college to lose their financial aid. In response, she says K3 Holdings began sending a representative named Angel Escobar to her home to intimidate her into taking a smaller deal of $23,000, saying the apartment wasn’t hers, and threatening to halt maintenance and repairs to her apartment if she refused. Angel says she moved in with an indefinite lease and told Escobar she had no intention of leaving, but the harassment continued unabated until the LATU introduced tenants at the two complexes.

“Before meeting the LA Tenants Union, I was so anxious about coming back to my apartment every day, fearing he would be there. I wish to tell other tenants to not be afraid, and don’t give in to their offers. It’s not about the money.”

 

Alma Angel tells her story to the crowd outside 727 S Mariposa. (Credit: Josh Rosen | KNOCK.LA)

In response to recent pushback, K3 Holdings told tenants they would end cash for keys, but tenants aren’t holding their breath. Instead, tenants at the two apartment complexes rapidly organized themselves into tenants associations standing in solidarity for each other’s rights.

With the help of the broader LATU, tenants say the associations have transformed the atmosphere of their complexes from despair to hope, from alienation and isolation to friendship and camaraderie, as the neighbors come together as a community for the first time to protect each other from their powerful landlord. The associations are modeled after the LATU, with the goal of creating a decentralized federation of autonomous tenant-led organizations that can negotiate on behalf of their individual members. Ultimately, the tenants movement in LA seeks to foster a new relationship between landlords and tenants as a class.

“Now that we’ve started exercising our rights, we feel powerful and that we’ve actually taken back ownership of the building itself,” said Isaacs. “As a result, we have a fantastic relationship with our neighbors as well.”

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