A Bittersweet Victory: Here’s How Long Beach Tenants Fought Landlords and Won

Nov. 15, 2018 / By

Above, tenants in building 1019-1027 Cedar Ave. posted signs saying “#CedarResistance” on their windows during a rent strike and lawsuit against new property owners at the time. (Photos taken by Crystal Niebla on July 12, 2018)

LONG BEACH, Calif. — For 19 long years, the De La Cruz-Zepeda family lived in their central Long Beach apartment off Cedar Avenue until a new owner took over this past spring.

People in the bottom floor were the first to receive 60-day notices to vacate. Twenty-one-year-old Anayensy De La Cruz-Zepeda and her parents had a premonition and correctly predicted the second floor, where they lived, would be next.

“We felt very intimidated,” she said, after reading a vacate notice in-hand.

Some of the displaced included elderly Spanish-speakers such as 63-year-old Guadalupe Ríos. She had lived in the Cedar Avenue complex until May and spent about $4,000 in one month relocating to a new apartment in Long Beach.

Around that time, Ríos said she had returned to her old unit to pick up some mail and found her belongings thrown in the garbage, saying she had three more days left to completely vacate.

“They take advantage of us,” she said in Spanish.

According to eviction-tracking data, at least three Long Beach tenants are evicted each day. At the same time, residents are being priced out of their apartments as people line the city’s court rooms to appeal evictions, and some slip into homelessness.

Nearly 57 percent of residents in Long Beach are rent-burdened, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income to rent, according to PolicyLink, a racial justice think tank. Following the rising tide of rent costs and evictions, tenants from the low-income neighborhoods of Long Beach have resorted to various tactics. Rent strikes. Lawsuits. Negotiations. Organizing.

Staff from the apartments’ new ownership at Beach Front Property Management Inc. did not respond to interview requests.

After vacating, De La Cruz-Zepeda moved just six properties down on the same street, spending about $5,000 in one month for the last month’s rent, the new unit’s first month’s rent and deposit. At her old apartment, she and her parents had rented a one-bedroom for $800 per month. After Beach Front bought the building and renovated, those units nearly doubled in price.

Almost all of the previous tenants only spoke Spanish. De La Cruz-Zepeda, who also works for a tenant rights firm, said she requested Spanish versions of the 60-day notices for those residents to no avail. Soon after the notices were given, the second floor staged a rent strike, where tenants stop paying the increased amount, and took their case to city council.

The rent strike at Cedar Avenue, better known as the #CedarResistance, lasted months and resulted in a lawsuit, where BASTA, another tenant rights organization, and tenants sued Beach Front for evicting them.

De La Cruz-Zepeda visited tenants to gather photos and documents indicating the reportage times for leaks, damages, pest infestations and more. She entered the home of 57-year-old Ofelia Vazquez in unit No. 7. The carpet looked like it had never been washed or replaced, so worn down that the original pattern design was hardly noticeable. 

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Vazquez had been living there with her brother for years. She showed De La Cruz-Zepeda the kitchen and lifted the stove top to reveal scattered fecal droppings left behind by rodents. She then pointed at sticky cockroach and mouse traps at a corner on the floor in her kitchen. Some of the kitchen’s cabinets were broken, paint was deteriorating, and Vazquez covered up cracks and openings along the sink with tissue paper.

Vazquez’s unit was not unique in all the four other units De La Cruz-Zepeda visited that day.

“Yeah, you pay low rent, but you live in really bad conditions,” De La Cruz-Zepeda said. “They don’t fix stuff.”

These renters were also baffled to learn their rent would double. It’s not worth that price, De La Cruz-Zepeda said.

Fortunately for the #CedarResistance, they won the lawsuit, which resulted in thousands of dollars for each unit in rent forgiveness and relocation assistance, and tenants moved out at the end of August.

One family bought a house in North Long Beach, one considered moving out of state, and another, 57-year-old Vazquez, moved in with her daughter in Long Beach.

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Crystal Niebla

Crystal was raised in South Los Angeles and is the first college graduate in her family. She is a class of 2016 CSULB graduate who has served as an editor for her campus newspaper and freelanced for the Long Beach Post and Random Length News. Crystal is now a Report for America corps member, covering the Westside for the Long Beach Post. Follow her work @crystalniebla on Twitter and @crystalniebla_media on Instagram.