Highland Park residents prepare for possible rent strike

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As many as 51 Highland Park residents could stop paying their rent in hopes it'll motivate their landlord to come to the bargaining table.

The residents live in the Marmion Royal apartment building, which has 60 units. Shortly after the building was sold in May, the new owners told tenants of their plans to remodel the building and raise the rent by $1,000, tenants told KPCC.

Highland Park is no stranger to increasing rent rates. Gentrification is pushing many longtime residents out of the neighborhood. The Marmion Royal rent increase is fully legal because the building does not fall under the city's rent control ordinance. Nonetheless, residents say they will protest the increase rather than move out.

"People just want to stay in their homes," said John Urquiza, a community organizer with the North East Los Angeles Alliance.

His team aims to help the tenants battle the building's owners by going on a "rent strike." 

Urquiza says it's the fastest way to get a face-to-face meeting with the owners. There, he and the tenants hope to reach an agreement to do away with the $1,000 increases.

"Denying capital and income to the owners is the only way we can bring them to the negotiating table," he said.  

Residents say other things have changed in the building since the change of ownership. They've reported water shut-offs, power outages and the removal of satellites from the roof, according to a release from the North East Los Angeles Alliance. 

KPCC reached out to the new owners, Skya Ventures and Gelt Inc., as well as the building's current landlord to confirm the shut-offs, but calls have not been returned.

California tenant laws do not specifically protect tenants who withhold rent payment in non-rent controlled apartments. Because of the tenants' lease agreement, the worst outcome for participants of a "rent strike" would mean a forced eviction through court.

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