Ghazal is an artist, writer, and freelance makeup artist living in Highland Park (she’s withholding her last name for safety reasons). When she told her landlord she couldn’t pay rent due to the coronavirus pandemic, she hoped he’d understand.
“I'm touching people's faces every single day,” she says. “So obviously, with a stay-at-home order and the risk of COVID-19, all of my work is completely halted.”
Instead, she says she and other renters in the unit started getting harassed by their landlord and his two sons.
“They began pounding on our doors and windows at various hours,” she says. “For one of my neighbors, the landlord attempted to open the door to her apartment once she opened the screen door in order to speak with him. He attempted to get into my locked car door when I was in there. It's just been one thing after another.”
The city and county of Los Angeles have come up with an eviction moratorium to protect renters from losing their homes, but that’s starting to cause tension between renters and landlords.
“This case isn't isolated,” says attorney Elena Popp about Ghazal’s experience. Popp is the executive director of the nonprofit Eviction Defense Network, which has created a hotline (888-495-8020) and email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) for renters experiencing issues.
“We're averaging 22 calls or emails a day,” she says. “And about 52% of calls are about harassment: asking incessantly for the rent, asking incessantly for more proof, knocking on the door at all hours of the day and night, threatening to lock the tenant out, threatening to shut off the utilities. So it’s getting very tense out there.”
But landlords are struggling too. Many rely on rent checks to pay mortgages, property taxes, garbage and recycling.
“Harassment is not okay, but you have to try to work with the tenant. … There's still a lot of expenses for the buildings,” says Shmuel Regerodsky, who owns 20 apartment units and manages about 100.
Regerodsky wants the city to offer interest-free loans to landlords while they wait for rent checks, or cap water and electricity bills because tenants stuck at home are using more utilities.
“There's [sic] things that the city can do to make it a little bit easier for the landlords,” he says. “And then, in turn, I think landlords would be able to more easily work with the tenants on payment plans and things like that.”
Dan Yukelson, who represents landlords as the executive director of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, says the city should help renters, not landlords.
“We're not in the private welfare business,” he says. “That isn't why we got into this business, nor did we get into this business to provide interest-free loans to people living in our investment properties.”
He says it’s incumbent upon the federal or state government to provide funding to renters so they can pay their rent. That way, he says property owners can stay in business and keep providing housing.