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Mariachis and other tenants reach resolution in Boyle Heights rent dispute

In this file photo, mariachis wait for work on Cinco de Mayo, at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles.
In this file photo, mariachis wait for work on Cinco de Mayo, at Mariachi Plaza in Los Angeles.
Ann Johansson/AP

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A long-running dispute over double-digit rental rate increases at a Boyle Heights apartment building has come to a peaceful resolution. After a number of protests and months of rent strikes and eviction notices, both sides reached an agreement that will allow the tenants to stay in their homes. 

The conflict started in January 2017 when some tenants at the building, just one block away from Mariachi Plaza, got a startling notice. The new owner, who had purchased the building in December 2016, had put rents up as much as 80 percent. About a third of the units are rented by mariachis who depend on being close to the plaza for work. 

Tenants formed a union and, for months, asked to meet with the property owner B.J. Turner. Those requests were denied until December 2017. 

"When you do a dialogue face-to-face, everything changes," said tenant Francisco Gonzalez, who has lived in the building for 12 years. "You tell your story and he knows who you are – not only as a name or as number. Now it’s more humanized. The contract is more humanized as well."

Thirteen of the 25 units have entered into a collective bargaining agreement with a 3 1/2 year contract. Here's what they got:

"Once you start sitting down and landlords start talking with tenants, you’re able to come up with resolutions that can make the landlords happy and the tenants happy and people don’t get displaced as a result of it," said Elizabeth Blaney, an organizer with Union de Vecinos, a group that has been working with tenants for the past year.

Neither Turner nor Crescent Canyon Management, the company which represents the owner, responded to requests for comment. 

Tenants and property owners will come together for a public celebration Thursday night at the apartment building (1815 E. 2nd St.) at 5:30 p.m, featuring performances by the mariachis.

Community organizers are encouraged by the resolution and hope it can serve as a model for similar disputes around Los Angeles. Rapid changes in property values are pushing longtime residents out of what had been more affordable, working-class neighborhoods. Housing prices throughout Boyle Heights have shot up considerably since the Metro Gold line stop was added in 2009 and the nearby Arts District has become more of a scene.

"Hopefully this is a wake up call for tenants who are not under rent control that they know they have a voice," said Gonzalez. 

Blaney says she thinks the public debate and pressure generated by the protests and rent strikes at this property is what ultimately got both sides into the room to reach an agreement. The tenants were supported by a number of groups across the city including Union de Vecinos, Defend Boyle Heights and the L.A. Tenants Union. 

"One of the purposes of a tenants union is to recognize that within all of the individual crises that families are facing in their homes, that there is an overall crisis that unites them all," said Tracy Rosenthal, a media representative for the L.A. Tenants Union. 

The L.A. Tenants Union, which formed two and a half years ago, has quickly grown to having nine local chapters and more than 250 dues-paying members. 

"We are in the process of trying to build more capacity to deal with all the cases with have," said Rosenthal.