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Deputy Serves Elderly Couple With Notice ~ Heartless Evictions Continue at Westlake Building Where Tenants Staged Strike

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]n elderly couple at the embattled Burlington apartments has less than five days to relocate after being served an eviction notice on Thursday by  L.A. Sheriff's deputies.

Though Burlington Unidos decided on Monday to halt its six-month rent strike at the Burlington Avenue Apartments in Westlake, their two most elderly members are now facing eviction by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The building looks decent enough on the outside, but as L.A. Taco has reported, the complex is festering with slumlord conditions. The landlord is increasing rents by more than 40 percent, which prompted residents to go on strike.

Around 7am Thursday morning, a deputy knocked on the door of Robert Rodriguez, 82, and his wife Maria, who is in her late 70s. In June, the pair lost a civil eviction case filed against their unit for non-payment of March rent.

An L.A. County Sheriff's Deputy outside the Rodriguez apartment Thursday morning. Photo courtesy Burlington Unidos.

The deputy arrived to serve them a formal five-day notice to vacate, the result of a 12-person jury decision in favor of the buildings’ trustee, Donald Crasnick.

Burlington Unidos broke its strike after Crasnick and the buildings’ landlord Lisa Ehrlich dropped over sixty outstanding eviction cases against its members, who began withholding rent as early as March of this year. Nine cases had already been adjudicated in court by the time the collective strike broke. Robert and Maria’s was the first of three losses.

The jury decided the couple did not have enough evidence to justify withholding March rent.

According to a statement published on Facebook by the couple’s attorney, Elena Popp of the Eviction Defense Network, the loss was due in part to a juror — apparently raised on a ranch — who persuaded others that exposure to pigeon feces “was not a health issue” and lacking hot water was “not a big deal.”

RELATED: Burlington’s Six Month Rent Strike Ends With Mickey Mouse Repair Jobs, Roaches, and Sewage, Tenants Say

Despite repairs made by management, roaches poured out this peeling wall on Saturday, September 8 at the Burlington Avenue Apartments. Animated GIF by Warren Szewczyk.
Despite repairs made by management, roaches are still part of daily life at Burlington Avenue.

The Rodriguezes were additionally hampered by the fact they could not introduce information about the rent strike or about a fall down a Burlington staircase Robert suffered last year. He couldn’t take the elevator that day because it had been inoperable for over a month, but because mobility concerns like elevators are not included a habitability standard landlords are required to uphold under California law, the story could not be told in the eviction trial.

These factors, per Popp and Rodriguez, led to the June eviction judgment against the two tenants. As to why it has taken two months for the L.A. Sheriff’s Department to follow through on that order, Popp said it’s up to the landlord to decide when an eviction is processed.

“Once an eviction judgment is entered the landlord controls the timeline,” Popp told L.A. Taco. She said it’s even possible for the landlord to waive the eviction judgment entirely. “Lisa [Ehrlich] has complete control over this, she can reinstate the tenancy. She could also give them more time to find housing.”

Of the two other Burlington units who lost their eviction cases, one moved out prior to eviction while the second was evicted by the Sheriff in July. Popp believes the timing of the eviction may be a sign Ehrlich is “trying to intimidate people [into] paying the March through September rent.” As L.A. Taco reported on Monday, tenants do not plan to hand over back rent unless Ehrlich sues them for it.

Robert and Maria Rodriguez share a laugh during a Burlington Unidos meeting. Photo courtesy L.A. Tenants Union.

[dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]obert Thaler, a spokesperson for the buildings’ management company, FML Management, said the timing discrepancy occurred because the cases were heard in different courts, which processed the cases at different speeds. “Each court has their own processing times, which we do not have any control over,” Thaler told the Taco by email. “If we had control over the eviction timeline, Mr. Rodriguez would have been required to leave his apartment in June.”

Because they were held liable for Crasnick’s attorney fees, the Rodriguezes owe a total of $40,000 — about $5,000 in rent and $35,000 in fees — according to Thaler. “Mr. Rodriguez followed the bad and misleading advice from [Popp] to stop paying rent and to give his money to her instead.”

“We have been incredibly clear with all of our tenants from the beginning that if they withheld their rent, we would be forced to evict them,” Thaler said. “It is unfortunate we are having to follow through on this promise.”

The couple has until Tuesday to vacate. Popp plans to file an extension motion in court which could give them more time. On Thursday, members of Burlington Unidos began helping the couple pack their things. A family in the union intends to shelter the couple while they search for other arrangements.

“I don’t know what it’s like to be evicted,” Rodriguez told The Nation in an August video about the rent strike. “Social Security’s all I got. I do not have a plan B.”

RELATED: Highland Park Rent-Strike at the Avenue 64 Apartments: ‘We Have No Other Place to Go’

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