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The Waverly Tenants Are Fighting Back Against One Of LA’s Worst Slumlords

Turning the tables.

From the first protest outside Vicky Mense’s Beverly Hills restaurant.

All across Los Angeles, landlords are waging an extremely profitable war against tenants. Many battles begin with real estate investors purchasing buildings they deem to be “under-performing assets.” Totally uninvited and unwanted, they force themselves into previously stable communities and proceed to ruin the lives of families that have the misfortune of being tenants in our capitalist society.

The investors, now landlords, demand even more money from households that are already devoting over half their paychecks to the rent. Or they simply tell the families that they’ve got to go — and if the tenants don’t comply with these tyrants’ whims, the Sheriff will come and forcibly evict them. Or, especially if the building is rent-controlled, new landlords may simply harass the renters until they leave, allowing them to then jack up the rates for new tenants.

And it must be noted that this assault is overwhelmingly waged by white people against people of color, mostly Black and Latinx.

But the landless class is fighting back. They’re waging rent-strikes, showing up at landlords’ homes, and organizing at the community level for radical change. Perhaps like none other in LA, the tenants movement transcends the typical barriers of race, geography, and language. Furthermore, it seems to be rapidly growing in both numbers and militancy.

Now, the Waverly Tenants have entered the fray, struggling against one of LA’s most notorious landlords, Steven Taylor, and his mother-in-law investor and Beverly Hills restaurateur, Vicky Mense. They’re being assisted by the VyBe and Northeast LA locals of the LA Tenants Union (LATU).

Minus the rent strike, the Waverly Tenants are following the strategic path laid out by the Mariachis in Boyle Heights, where tenants lacking rent control were able to turn 60–80% rent increases into a deal with a 14% increase and stable rents for the next 4 years by publicly shaming and disrupting the life of their new landlord, BJ Turner. Turner finally had enough after a bunch of DSA-LA members slept outside his West LA home.

This strategy has then been replicated to varying degrees of success by the Burlington tenants in Westlake, Expo in South LA, and Ave. 64 in Highland Park.

The Waverly group, which is comprised of a small but dedicated cadre of longtime residents determined to remain in their homes, has already held two actions at Mense’s restaurant. And they may soon be joined by another group of tenants from Ave. 54 in Highland Park who, also with the assistance of LATU, have preemptively organized themselves upon learning that people who have previously worked with Steven Taylor are interested in purchasing their building.

This struggle will only continue to escalate.

The situation at 2965 Waverly Dr.

In March of 2018, the 36-unit complex in Silverlake was purchased by a pair of LLCs controlled respectively by Taylor and Mense. According to Larry Gross, Executive Director of the tenants organization Coalition for Economic Survival, based in Koreatown, Steven Taylor is “the poster boy for bad landlords in LA.” Taylor profits off of gentrifying neighborhoods all across LA (see this map of properties associated with Taylor, data from property records). Both he and Mense, of course, live on the Westside, far away from the communities in the gentrifying core that they extract their wealth from.

Once the building changed hands, things immediately went downhill due to what seems to be a campaign by the owners to push the tenants into leaving. So far, it’s worked: 21 of the 36 units are currently empty despite not one of those fleeing tenants receiving an eviction notice.

The alleged harassment has been so egregious that the tenants’ City Councilmember, David Ryu, recently wrote a scolding letter to Taylor about it.

The building was, and still is, flooded with construction workers and trucks day-in and day-out. The noise is loud and constant, and there’s trash everywhere. The new owners demanded access to people’s homes for several days at a time — basically saying workers could enter/exit units at any point over X number of days — and only stopped after a warning from the Department of Building and Safety. Many tenants had their interior walls busted up under the pretext that the ownership was looking for good spots to put new laundry units. In April, there were no trash bins for 18 days.

One tenant from Waverly wrote online that the building “feels like a warzone.” This feeling in response to Taylor’s ownership is typical, as far too many reviews on Yelp make clear.

Just a few photos of what the tenants deal with every day. (credit to the Waverly Tenants Association)

“The situation is especially hostile for the women in the building,” Melinda Peffer, one of the leaders of the Waverly Tenants Association (TA), told me. There are 20-or-so men on-site working every day, often outnumbering the tenants themselves because of all the vacant units. They’ve also had multiple night-time break-ins since the building has been emptied out.

Melinda, like many of the tenants, has lived at Waverly for over a decade, and her 7 year-old daughter goes to Ivanhoe Elementary school right down the street. I asked her why the new owners have chosen to seemingly harass the tenants out instead of simply filing evictions — the building isn’t rent-controlled, so the tenants have essentially no protection if the landlord simply wants them gone — and she thinks it’s because formal evictions take time and money. As proof, she and another of one of the TA leaders are currently in the process of fighting eviction notices they were given back in April.

These evictions came almost immediately after the tenants formed their association and announced themselves to Taylor and Mense. They were a group of 16 households determined to stay. Then, every single one got hit with either a substantial rent increase or an eviction notice.

Mark, another tenant from the TA that I spoke to, had his rent raised from $1400 to $1725. He was further told the rent would ultimately be set at $2500 — an $1,100 increase in total — but he doesn’t know exactly when. He simply cannot afford that, and worries that each month will be his last at Waverly.

Melinda and the one other leader facing eviction are hoping they can argue that it was illegally given in retaliation for organizing. Their trials will commence in the coming weeks.

Today, only 5 of the original 16 TA members still live at the building.

The remaining Waverly Tenants aren’t naive enough to believe that Taylor and Mense, the profit-seeking investors that they are, will acquiesce to reasonable rents simply out of the goodness of their hearts.

Leave, or fight back; those appear to be the only options.

NOTE: this article was updated on November 1.