JASON VS. LA. City REAP Program!!!!
333 Rose Avenue Synopsis
I purchased the property located at 333 Rose Avenue on August 20th, 2010. Previous to the purchase, I was aware of an existing LAHD (Los Angeles Housing Department) order. The order states that the property be returned to it’s permitted condition. The property is currently a five unit residential building, comprised of three one-bedroom units and two studio units. The permitted use of the building is a duplex, including two one-bedroom units and a permitted office with full bathroom, connected to the rear one-bedroom with a permitted roofed patio. Unit E was added as an illegal second story on top of the permitted office (Unit D) and the permitted patio (the bedroom of Unit C). Therefore, the order states that four of the existing five units, Units B through E, must be vacated and restored to original condition. Unit A still meets code, and can therefore be maintained.
It is the tenant’s choice whether to pay into the REAP program or to pay the landlord. My former tenant in Unit A, who has subsequently passed away, never made a complaint to my manager that was not addressed immediately, and never paid me one dollar of rent.
Upon my purchase of the building, my tenants in Unit A and Unit C shared the same legal representation. Firms such as this are publicly funded with taxpayer dollars to prevent tenants from being manipulated and exploited by their landlords.
Unfortunately, they have expanded their duties to include wealth redistribution. In a phone conversation that I had with one of their attorneys, I was actually extorted I called her to find out why my new tenant in Unit A refused to talk with me directly or pay my rent. I explained that there was no reason to use the REAP program, as I planned to keep the tenant on as a permanent tenant and make her happy. The attorney’s response was that previous landlords had treated her poorly and that she had no intention of paying me, ever. Then the conversation switched over to the tenant in Unit C. I explained that I would be relocating her based on the LAHD demolition order. I asked about her timeframe for leaving. The attorney suggested that I just ignore the order- great legal advice, as that would get me fined by the LAHD, and eventually sued by the City Attorney. I informed the attorney that it was my intention to relocate everyone as soon as possible. The attorney then suggested that I give the tenant $200,000 to leave. The attorney explained to me that this was really not much money, in this day and age. I asked why should I pay more than the 18,300 mandated by the LAHD. The attorney then threatened to make my life “very difficult” if I would not provide her client with more compensation.
Based on this conversation, I decided to remove all of the units permanently from the rental market through the Ellis Act. In a neighborhood that suffers from a severe lack of reasonably priced housing, the LAHD and governmentally sponsored attorneys are forcing landlords to remove units.
On September 16, 2010, I served all four tenants (Unit D served as a storage area for the tenant in Unit E) with the appropriate 120-day Move Out Notices. I then put the nearly $70,000 required relocation money into a non-interest bearing Escrow account. The tenants in Units A,B, and C, who are all senior citizens, and each filed for a one year extension, pushing my relocation date to September 16, 2011. The LAHD provided me with four signed documents stating that three of my four tenants were qualified, and were to be given time extensions and additional relocation monies. Two months later, I then received a fourth extension from the LAHD, a “revised” extension. During a phone call to the LAHD department that issues the qualification reports, I learned that the ex-husband of the tenant in Unit E, the one tenant who was not qualified, was now claiming residency in the unit. He is young but claims Hepatitis C as his reason for being handicapped, and his reason for requiring the extension and the additional monies. I told the LAHD supervisor at that department that the ex-husband does not actually live in the building, and hasn’t for years. He told me that the tenant was now qualified, that his Department’s job was to support the tenants, and that there was nothing that I could do about it, even if the ex-husband didn’t occupy the property, which I couldn’t prove anyway. I then called the LAHD branch that handles the fees for the Ellis Act and they had no record of this new qualification extension. To date, I have still not been asked to revise my fees or add money to my escrow account.
After the delivery of the 120-day notices, I was inundated with legal threats regarding my management of the building. In reality, over the short time that I have owned it, we have fixed every problem in the building, including leaks, and plumbing issues that have been there for over a decade. I received repeated written documents claiming that I was ignoring emails, and telephone calls for various items. In reality, all of the tenants have the building manager’s cell phone number and email, and he has not heard a word from anyone. He lives directly next door to the property, and the tenants could call out the window to him if they wanted to. I felt that the attorneys were trying to establish a falsified paper trail on which they plan, “to file a lawsuit against me, to make my life difficult”. In February of 2011, I requested that the tenant in Unit E vacate Unit D, which she was using as a “storage” room. I had learned that the tenant’s ex-husband had been illegally squatting in the unit, and wanted to get him out. The tenant had actually signed a document stating that nobody occupied Unit D, and that it was used completely as storage on September 29th, 2010. I had the document signed at the behest of my attorney, who feared that she might attempt to recover double relocation monies from me, by claiming that she lived in both units. I had no idea, at that point, that the ex-husband was even in the city anymore, as I had not seen him since their split years earlier.
The tenant refused to vacate Unit D. In March, I took the tenant to court on Unlawful Detainer. The judge found for me as all evidence brought in by the tenant reflected occupancy of Unit E, and not Unit D. I was awarded the unit and damages. The trial brought other issues to light. The tenant and her ex-husband showed up wearing wedding rings. I finally understood the depth of their unscrupulous behavior. They claimed that Unit D and Unit E were actually connected, and that Unit D served as the functioning kitchen for the “unit”. As the tenant perjured herself in court, I had suspicions on what would happen next. Immediately after court, I provided the tenant with 24-hour notice for apartment inspection. The next day, my father and two witnesses entered Unit D and took photographs. Two weeks later, I entered the unit again, with witnesses, and taking more photographs. As I suspected, the tenants had actually cut a hole in the ceiling of Unit D, thus connecting it with Unit E above. A stair ladder was installed as well. Finally, the kitchen in Unit E had been partially removed I immediately went to LAHD, the Council Office, and LAPD with the before and after pictures and signed witness testimony. I was fairly certain that this vandalism would be cause for immediate eviction. However, I do not have a lease or estoppel with the tenant, as I bought the building in foreclosure. I learned that without a lease, a tenant can actually do ANYTHING to a building.
A supervisor at LAHD told me that the LAHD actually has NO mechanisms against tenants. Their entire structure is set up to fine, and harass building owners, and they do not even have the ability to take official action against tenants. The damage that the tenant caused in my building is structural damage. She cut through a structural floor joist, and cut a hole through the structural diaphragm of the building.
I am trained as both an architect and engineer, and I taught building structural design at the graduate level. I am capable of determining life-safety structural issues, and this damage makes the building vulnerable to lateral forces such as those produced by an earthquake. Additionally, the hole was a break in the required fire separation, and a falling hazard. Amazingly, this damage is not cause for eviction.
Upon learning this, I began to take a long hard look at the LAHD. I requested that the LAHD send a licensed structural engineer to meet me at the property. I was shocked to learn that the LAHD has NO engineers on staff.
For the last decade, the LAHD has been in charge of inspections of all multi-family structures in the city of Los Angeles. This is a life-safety issue. Nowhere else in the entire country is this responsibility handled by an agency that has no licensed professionals on staff. There are 50 story buildings downtown that are overseen by an agency that employs NO qualified personnel. Looking back at the history of the LAHD, I discovered the problem. When these duties were taken away from LADBS (the Department of Building and Safety), an agency with many qualified professionals, in 2001, some of these professionals were relocated to LAHD. However, in 2006, the LAHD underwent a “makeover”. All qualified professionals were replaced with housing advocates. This happens quite often in our city, but NOT with agencies that oversee life-safety issues. I found this all very hard to believe myself, until I went through this process myself. Upon learning that the LAHD has no qualified structural personnel on staff, I went to the LADBS building inspection office in Westchester with my photographs and a witness to attempt to get a qualified engineer over to my property. I told the inspector that I was trained as a engineer myself, and that the situation was unsafe. He informed me that the building is the jurisdiction of the LAHD, and that he could not help. I then went to the LADBS building permitting office in West Los Angeles. Again, I was turned away.
I approached a supervisor at LAHD about the issue. He actually had to request a field engineer from LADBS to visit the property. As the process was completely out of the ordinary, it took over a week to schedule. The engineer viewed the property and agreed that in the event of an earthquake, the building may be structurally unstable. However, as it was not his “jurisdiction”, he could not produce a report himself. He agreed with me that is was absurd that LAHD has no facilities to deal with these issues. He directed me to produce a report myself with one of my structural engineers. These reports require an enormous amount of time and expense. As it was far cheaper to just fix the problem, so I instructed the LAHD inspectors that I would make the structure safe myself. I told them that I would begin immediately, as I was not willing to risk an earthquake occurring. I knew full well that I was the only one who would be held responsible in the event of a catastrophic behavior. I removed the drywall to inspect the damage and begin repairs.
On cue, the VERY SAME LADBS inspector that threw me out of his office just weeks before, showed up at my building and ordered my crew to stop work. I immediately went to West Los Angeles and pulled a drywall, and bathroom remodel permit for the work that I was performing to repair the damage caused by tenant, still residing above
I just recently received a fine for the illegal second story and new work being performed on the property from the LADBS. Isn’t it ironic that I am being fined for the first PERMITTED work that has been performed on the property in decades ? This is a recurring fine that will grow as the situation is not remedied. Keep in mind that the LAHD will not allow me to relocate the tenants in the building, thereby preventing me from resolving the illegal construction. In effect, I am being held hostage on this issue.
I do not accept the fact that my tenant in Unit E is qualified because her ex-husband who does NOT even reside on the property, has claimed an exception. Paying a tenant $18,300 to vacate my building after she has committed felony vandalism is actually as ridiculous as it sounds. Therefore, I have filed an Unlawful Detainer for Unit E, as her 120-day Ellis Act notice is up. Their attorney has filed for a jury trial.
A jury trial is incredibly expensive, and tenant attorneys use this avenue to extort higher relocation fees from building owners. This process needs to be discontinued immediately, unless the city plans to pay for the building owners’ attorneys as well as the tenants’. While these tenants’ rights law firms are not “paid” directly by the city, they are paid indirectly. The city hires these firms to give tenants “rights seminars” that essentially keep these firms on retainer. In addition, the LAHD keeps raising relocation fees to keep the cases interesting for even the unsubsidized attorneys. The jury trial can be used to threaten and bully building owners, as it is against me.
As far as the attorney who was representing my tenants in Units A and C, I was correct. The tenant in Unit C actually fired her attorney after the attorney insisted that both her clients, in Unit A and Unit C lie. The attorney wanted both tenants to lie about mismanagement and even harassment on my part. That explains all of the unfounded letters that I received. The tenant in Unit C is as disgusted as I, by this unethical behavior on the part of her former attorney, and will verify all of my claims. The fact that these attorneys, the SAME attorneys that are paid by the City of LA to lecture tenants on their rights, are extorting building owners and advising their clients to lie, is emblematic of the corruption and inequity of the whole system.
The supervisor that I contacted at LAHD also assisted me with my REAP issue. I was informed, on three separate occasions, at two different LAHD offices, after being laughed at, that in order to remove Unit A from REAP, ALL violations in the building would have to be cured. In effect, LAHD would not let me out of REAP until I corrected all building issues, but they also would not let me relocate the rear tenants, which is necessary to resolve the violations. I was being held hostage again. However, the supervisor said that the LAHD employees had misled me. REAP is a unit, by unit program, NOT a building-wide program. The supervisor put me in touch with the LAHD employee in charge of removing units from REAP. When I contacted him, he didn’t even know that it was his job. That should be an indication of how many people are ever allowed out of REAP. Additionally, he has no idea how to get the money that they have already collected from my tenant back to me. After doing some research on the REAP program, I was amazed to learn about the whole other cesspool of corruption involved with that program as well.
When a property is put into REAP, there is a hearing to determine whether the particular situation is justified. Attorneys serve as the judges for these hearings. These SAME attorneys are “tenants rights” attorneys. These SAME attorneys take these SAME tenants as clients immediately after “trial”, and sue the building owners that they just judged against. There are absolutely no rules or ethics at any level in the LAHD.
So, in summary, the LAHD has forced me to evict all of my tenants, and then forced me to let them stay. I have a huge amount of money sitting in non-interest bearing limbo, and a fleet of taxpayer-based lawyers threatening me. I have to pay a tenant that has vandalized my unit in order to comply with and LAHD mandate, and I am being fined by one LA City agency for not performing a task that another LA City agency will not allow me to perform. The REAP program is an unethical farce, and most importantly, life-safety issues are being handled by an agency rife with advocates and devoid of qualified professionals. One question remains: now that the cat is out of the bag, what are we going to do about it?
See Jason’s lawsuit agents the LAHD….
HRCLA is using the same great Law firm!