L.A. Tenants Union helps organize Leimert Park and Baldwin Hills residents
Zerita Jones and her family are a tight-knit group — so much so that most of them live within a 10-minute walk.
They call Baldwin Hills home, where she lives with her mother, Jesse, at Chesapeake Apartments. Her grandson lives in the same complex, while two of her five children, both in their 30s, live a mere two blocks away at the corner of Coliseum Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
“We’re close,” Jones said in an interview. “Me and my mom are right there. You lose all of that [when you get displaced] and it affects and it ripples basically not only through the family, but it affects all your immediate and the out portions of your family, too.”
Jones and her mother were two of nearly 30 Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park residents who attended Saturday’s Los Angeles Tenants Union’s tenant rights workshop at the Justice Center. Jones, who got involved with the organization nearly one year ago, became an activist when her complex was threatened with eviction in 2017 after the city sued its owner, calling it a center for gang violence.
“I realized that there are massive evictions going on all over our neighborhood,” Jones said in an interview. “[My mom] actually still lives in an apartment right across the street from where I graduated in 1983 … I saw so many people getting evicted at one point and a lot of the times it was because they didn’t know their rights. They were being fooled or they would just give up.”
Saturday’s session marked the first of several monthly tenant rights workshops directed toward residents of Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw, where the L.A. Tenants Union intends to create a new chapter because of the growing gentrification in the area, which has led to uncertainty among community members. Currently, the South Central L.A. Tenants Union serves the northern half of South L.A, including the three neighborhoods.
A key topic of discussion Saturday was the way landlords handle leases.
Judy Harris of Leimert Park, for instance, said her landlord had recently sent a letter to tenants saying rent was due on the first of the month rather than between the first and the third, as it had been previously.
Tenant rights attorney Aimee Williams told the group that, without a signature, such changes to the contract were not valid. She also said tenants under rent control were not required to sign a new contract even if ownership of the complex were to change. However, she encouraged it if the contract was old and no longer reflected the tenant’s current living situation. She said it was important to update the number of individuals living in the household and mention pets to prevent landlords from making any changes that would affect such circumstances.
Organizers also answered questions about managing apartment conditions and unresponsive landlords.
Courtney Caraway of Leimert Park asserted her landlord ignored requests to figure out what was causing sewage to rise. The landlord had sent a plumber a number of times to fix her sink, but the problem persisted. Others complained about bedbugs and cockroaches.
Williams said the California Civil Code allows tenants to make repairs and deduct it from rent if 30 days pass without action from the landlord.
“My experience,” Williams said, “has been that as soon as you even threaten to do this, they show up mighty fast to try and fix it themselves so that they don’t lose their rent.”
The L.A. Tenants Union will continue to host events in Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills and Crenshaw to evaluate community engagement as it plans to form a new chapter for the area.