Business & Economy

Boyle Heights tenants face eviction for unpaid double-digit rent increases

Karen Centeno and her husband Moises Hernandez are facing eviction from their Boyle Heights apartment on East 2nd Street. Rents have been rising as newcomers forced out by higher housing costs elsewhere move into the community.
Karen Centeno and her husband Moises Hernandez are facing eviction from their Boyle Heights apartment on East 2nd Street. Rents have been rising as newcomers forced out by higher housing costs elsewhere move into the community.
KPCC via Karen Centeno

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Boyle Heights tenants facing eviction for refusing to pay rent increases of up to 80 percent will be protesting outside their apartment complex on Wednesday, joined by other renters fed up with skyrocketing housing costs.

Tenants at 1815 E. 2nd St., just a block away from Mariachi Plaza, said they started receiving eviction notices on Saturday, after communications with their landlord broke down. Five of the seven households ordered to leave include mariachis.

Karen Centeno and her mariachi husband Moises Hernandez said they can't afford the 43 percent rent hike that pushed their rent to $1,650 a month. But they also can't afford to move out of Boyle Heights because Hernandez needs to be near Mariachi Plaza where musicians wait for gigs. And Centeno's father who lives in the neighborhood depends on her help with his job training dogs.  

"I understand it’s a business but you cannot throw us out like trash," Centeno said. 

Housing prices in Boyle Heights have shot up as the neighborhood draws in newcomers priced out of other parts of the city. What is happening in Boyle Heights is a case study in how L.A.'s housing crisis is rippling into blue-collar neighborhoods that were once affordable.

The area surrounding Mariachi Plaza has become especially desirable real estate since Metro installed a Gold Line stop there in 2009.

Centeno’s complex is not old enough for L.A. rent controls protections, which covers residences built before 1979, so the double-digit rate increases are perfectly legal.

Centeno said both her parents and her husband's want to help, but they live in overcrowded conditions with relatives. She's researched other apartments in Boyle Heights but the neighborhood's proximity to the Arts District has driven up rents.  

"My days used to be pretty simple and right now all the time I worry," Centeno said. 

Within weeks of the stucco complex being purchased in December 2016, the Crescent Canyon property management company sent notices to seven of the 24 units, increasing rent by $550 to $800 per month, according to Elizabeth Blaney, an organizer with Union de Vecinos, which is part of the citywide L.A. Tenants Union.

Blaney said she was working to get the landlord and tenants to negotiate a reasonable rent increase. But she said issues arose when the management company set certain conditions before the owner, Frank B.J. Turner, would agree to meet with tenants.

She said they included convening in an undisclosed hotel and requiring tenants to provide identification. The owner also wanted one-on-one talks with tenants, rather than meeting as a group — something that the tenants rejected, Blaney said. 

"We’re part of a tenants union," Blaney said. "We have a right to collective bargaining and let’s meet all together."

The tentative plan had been to meet late last week, but unable to reach an agreement, the landlord issued eviction notices. The owner, Turner, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Centeno said she's still hoping the owner will relent and agree to smaller rent increases, while also making repairs, like fixing leaks she said plague her bedroom and living room.  

"We don't need luxury in our apartments. I don't need a new kitchen," Centeno said. "We just want to live here."