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Chinatown Residents Say Their Rents Are Being Unfairly Increased. The Owner Claims It’s Legal

A group of tentants stand in front of a building, some with their fists in the air, with signs that say "eminent domain" and "stop breaking families apart"
The tenants are calling on the city to use eminent domain to take ownership of their units.
(Courtesy of Hillside Villa Tenants)
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Tenants at Chinatown's Hillside Villa apartment complex say they’re facing massive, illegal rent hikes and are worried they'll lose their homes.

Some faced a hike of more than $2,000 a month at the start of the pandemic. And last week, tenants said they were given a rent hike nearly 10% higher than what’s allowed by state law.

Hillside Villa was built in 1989 under a 30-year affordability covenant that expired in 2019. Since then, tenants say the landlord, Tom Botz, has been trying to raise rents to market rate. Botz insists the increases are legal.

Leslie Hernandez, a 30-year resident at Hillside, said most tenants don’t have the money to pay the new rates. The tenants have been on a rent strike for two years.

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“This is basically an eviction, especially here in L.A. [when] homelessness has increased so much,” Hernandez said. “He knows very well the majority of us can't afford a $3,600 payment for rent for a three-bedroom and $2,600 for a two-bedroom.”

Tenants are asking City Councilmember Gil Cedillo to get the city to buy the building through eminent domain. Cedillo said in a statement that he’s “fiercely advocating” for that.

Hillside residents and supporters say he’s not moving quickly enough. They want immediate action.

While maintaining the rent hikes are legal, Botz said they don’t apply to low-income tenants who get Section 8 rental subsidies. He said Section 8 rent is kept at a market rate that has to be approved by the city housing authority, but the tenants still say the amount is unaffordable.

Botz wants the city to provide rental aid to other Hillside residents.

“There should be a program that helps these tenants transition either into Section 8 subsidies or into moving into areas that they themselves could afford,” he said.

Botz said he met with Cedillo a few years ago to talk about the Section 8 program and hasn’t heard back. But Cedillo’s office disputes his claim, saying Botz “continues to provide misinformation and inaccuracies.”

Anna Ortega from the L.A. Housing Department said in a statement that the department “would investigate any tenant complaints/inquiries if the tenants believe the proposed rent increase is more than 8.6%.”

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