Tenant harassment is illegal in LA — but the law isn’t getting enforced

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Journalist Jack Ross says that landlords often target tenants in older, rent controlled buildings with harassment, so they can flip the units for profit. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

In 2021, the city of Los Angeles adopted the tenant anti-harassment ordinance, which bans landlords from willingly causing harm to tenants by way of shoddy housing conditions, threats and intimidation, or refusal of rent.

But two years later, the city has done little to enforce the law — and housing advocates say that’s driving many tenants to be displaced from their rent-controlled units. 

Tenant harassment can manifest in many different ways, from noisy construction to letting poor housing conditions like black mold or flooding proliferate. One landlord in North Hollywood was even arrested for setting fire to a property he owned to scare tenants. That’s all according to journalist Jack Ross, who covered the issue for Capital and Main.

Regardless of the way harassment happens, Ross says the goal is usually to get tenants to leave, so that property owners can be flipped, or the rent can be raised. 

“The reason they're doing that is because if a landlord convinces a tenant to move out of the rent controlled unit, they can then charge market rate to the next tenant. So that can mean doubling or tripling the rent, turning huge profits,” says Ross. 

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Landlords sometimes even hire “tenant relocators,” who coerce tenants to move out or offer them a lump sum of money to leave voluntarily — a practice known as “cash for keys.” 

Rebeca Sanchez, a member of the Los Angeles Tenants Union, says a relocator named Angel Escobar, hired by her landlord K3 Holdings, tried to get her to accept a cash for keys offer repeatedly, despite the fact that she told him she wanted to remain in her unit. 

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When it didn’t work, she says the landlords eventually resorted to other types of harassment — including threatening to call immigration on her and doing noisy construction that damaged her unit.

“I ended up with not just one hole in my kitchen, but two holes in my kitchen. And they ruined all sorts of things for me in the kitchen. They even ruined some of the food that I had stored for my children,” Sanchez says.

Ross says while harassment tactics like this are all too common, they’re routinely disregarded by the city, which says it doesn’t have the funds to enforce the law.

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“The city's received more than 6,000 tenant harassment complaints from tenants just in two years,” says Ross. “More than 5,000 of those complaints have been closed by the housing department. Just twelve have been referred to the city attorney for prosecution and not a single landlord has been prosecuted.”

Some city officials have been pushing for a change. Measure ULA, a city housing tax measure passed last year, is set to make about $11 million available for enforcement of the tenant harassment ordinance later this year. 

Councilmember Nithya Raman has also introduced a motion that would empower more tenants to sue landlords for harassment by reimbursing their legal fees if they win. But, Ross says it doesn’t yet have the votes to get out of the city council’s housing committee. 

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Regardless, the lack of enforcement hasn’t stopped tenants like Sanchez from fighting back. She says for years, she’s been organizing with her neighbors and other members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union to call attention to her landlord’s harassment. 

They’ve formed a tenant council that connects tenants across multiple buildings owned by K3 Holdings, and some of those tenants are in the midst of a lawsuit against the landlord. Sanchez says they’re banding together to demand that the owners fix what has been broken. 

“One of the things that we're working towards together is having them actually repair things, and make the things worthwhile that they repair — and have it last,” she says.