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Thanksgiving Protest: Compton Family Fights 50 Percent Rent Hike, Looming Eviction

[dropcap size=big]C[/dropcap]ecilia Vargas Reyna endured cockroaches, mold growing on the floors, and humidity separating wall boards in her tiny single-family house in Compton, but six years ago, when she moved in with her family, at least the rent was affordable, she said.

Then in November 2017, her landlord increased her rent to $2,100, a 50 percent increase. All told the company, Invitation Homes, has more than doubled Reyna’s monthly rent in the six years since she moved in there.

“I am really fed up with the company,” Reyna told L.A. Taco. “They don’t even fix things we asked them to fix. They don’t have the capacity to do what they are supposed to do.”

The company, Invitation Homes, failed to fix persistent problems that she pointed out in her three-bedroom, 926-square-foot house which includes an attached garage, Reyna said. For years, she and her family lived with stopped up plumbing under the kitchen sink, mold growing on the floor and walls, and  cockroaches.

So earlier this year, Reyna turned to the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment for help, a group she discovered by chance through a flyer left at her front door.

After four months of protests coordinated by the group and a back and forth between her lawyer and Invitation Homes, it looked as though her rent would return to $1,400 a month. That amount would still be 40 percent more than her original rent of $1,000, when she and her family moved in 2013.

Pay or quit notification.
Rent increase notification.

But on Oct. 15, Reyna received a “pay rent or quit” letter, threatening her with eviction. Instead of paying the increase or moving out, Reyna said she is fighting back.

Reyna and ACCE brought Invitation Homes a Thanksgiving message to the company’s office in Pasadena on Wednesday. About 50 protestors set up a Thanksgiving buffet spread inside the company’s lobby.

“They are actually very incompetent,” Reyna said during the protest inside the lobby of Invitation’s Pasadena office. “They only care about money and don’t even care about fixing our issues. Honestly, I am frustrated. Every time I come here to pay the rent, I see people who have the same problems as mine. So, I am done with this. I am here to protest against Invitation Homes.”

About 50 protestors set up a Thanksgiving buffet spread inside Invitation Homes HQ. All photos by Philip Iglauer.

Reyna said one of the more heartbreaking things is that she actually wants to move out the tiny 1940s bungalow, but it’s not that easy. Her husband Carlos, works at a nearby auto parts factory and the youngest of her three kids attends Compton High School. They have built a life in the community.

Her experience with Invitation Homes isn’t unusual. Whitney Hurst an Invitation Homes renter in Esparto, California complained of similar problems.

“The company uses a model of maximum profit through regular major rent increases at minimum cost. [They're] properties and office [are] so understaffed that it’s virtually impossible to reach a live employee about maintenance requests,” Joe Delgado, director of ACCE’s Los Angeles branch, told L.A. Taco.

Cecilia Reyna,45, and her son, Carlos Jr.,15.
Cecilia Reyna,45, and her son, Carlos Jr.,15.

Invitation Homes was spun off of equity giant Blackstone Group back in 2012. In the second half of 2017, it merged with another real estate giant, Starwood Waypoint Homes, transforming into a $10 billion property management behemoth.

Reyna’s tiny Compton home is just one of about 82,000 properties that Invitation Homes manages, most of them are entry-level three-bedroom houses in 17 metropolitan areas concentrated in the Sun Belt. Its portfolio – though still less than one percent of the overall single-family rental market – is 58 percent larger than that of its nearest competitor, American Homes 4 Rent.

Even though Reyna and her family face a threat of imminent eviction from the largest property management company in the country, she said she was optimistic, even thankful. “Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I can spend time with my husband and children.”

RELATED: Forced Out: In Exposition Park, Residents Face Likely Eviction to Make Room For The Fig

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