LOS ANGELES – Happy endings only exist in books according to L.A. resident and mother of three, Diana Castellanos. That is why in her free time she likes to read novels.
“The everyday routine gets a little bit too much sometimes and the best way to escape that is to read; because right now it looks pretty bleak,” said Castellanos.
Bleak, because since April of last year, Castellanos, her husband, and their three kids along with other tenants in a three story-building near University of Southern California have been in a battle with their landlord. First over a rent increase, now over evictions.
“I’m definitely not sleeping well, I’m up probably by three o’clock in the morning thinking what we’re going to do next” says Castellanos looking at her eviction papers. “It’s frustrating, it’s hard, it’s scary.”
But Castellanos and other tenants saw a light at the end of tunnel with last year’s passage of AB 1482, California’s Tenant Protection Act, which capped rent increases at five percent plus inflation and made no-fault evictions illegal. It went into effect at the start of the New Year.
“It felt like that state law was going to save everybody once January 1st hit. We thought well, that’s it, no problem, we’re going to be ok. We were relying on the state law to back us up, but unfortunately it hasn’t,” says Castellanos.
Spectrum News 1 reached out to the landlord for comment and didn’t hear back. However, we have spoken to him in the past and he believes his actions are in compliance with the new state law, but outside of a court, no government agency is going to step in and decide.
The law, according to Elena Popp the Executive Director for the Eviction Defense Network, is missing a key piece.
“Generally speaking when a rent control law gets passed, there is also a local enforcement agency put into place. In the city of L.A., it is the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department with regards to the state law, there is no comparable enforcement department,” said Popp.
With AB 1482 there is no place for a tenant to submit a complaint or file a violation.
“There should be an enforcement mechanism that does not exist” says Popp, “tenants have to know their rights and have to be willing to enforce it themselves.”
So how do you go about doing that? Get a lawyer and go to court.
“There is just no way that somebody would be able to hire a lawyer if they can’t even afford their rent” says Castellanos, “unfortunately this law doesn’t protect you as much as you think.”
So for now Castellanos, and other tenants, are holding rallies and relying on pro-bono lawyers from organizations like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the Eviction Defense Network. Actions that have resulted in a cease and desist letter from her landlord’s lawyer for defamation and libel with intent to embarrass or harass.
“I feel like for me it’s been embarrassing to go up there, and it’s hard to go up in public and speak” says Castellanos through tears “because it’s embarrassing for me, because it makes it seem like I can’t take care of my own house, or my own children.”
But she says she will keep going to the rallies and she will keep speaking out. Forcing herself to turn the page, until she reaches the end of this bitter chapter.