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Payments Put Into Trust Account : Residents of Buena Clinton Begin Rent Strike

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Times Staff Writer

Tenants of the Buena Clinton neighborhood in Garden Grove began a rent strike Sunday, withholding payments until landlords make repairs in their apartments, according to the leader of a Latino immigrants’ rights group.

Nativo Lopez, who heads Hermandad Mexicana Nacional, said that about 100 tenants have deposited rent money, which was due Sunday, in a trust account in an attempt to force the landlords to fix stoves, repair leaking pipes and rid their apartments of rats.

Another 50 tenants may join the strike later this week, said Lopez, who has organized rent strikes in Santa Ana and Anaheim during the past three years. The exact number of tenants participating in the Buena Clinton strike will not be known until after Tuesday, when residents first become delinquent on their rents.

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About 5,000 people, about 80% of whom are Latinos who speak little or no English, live in the 39-acre neighborhood, which is generally regarded as Orange County’s worst slum.

Landlords could not be reached for comment Sunday but previously accused tenants of destroying property.

Organized 3 Weeks Ago

Hermandad Mexicana began organizing the strike three weeks ago when residents called Lopez for help in improving conditions in the neighborhood. Tenants held three neighborhood meetings, including one Saturday night, before deciding to proceed with the strike.

“We are encouraged,” said Lopez, referring to about 150 people who signed up to participate.

Lopez was in Buena Clinton on Sunday, recruiting more tenants.

Tenants in the neighborhood have complained about plumbing and sewer leaks, non-functional stoves, no door or window locks and rodent infestation.

Some tenants also have accused apartment managers of painting over walls to hide damage from leaking plumbing shortly before city inspectors are scheduled to tour their apartments.

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Citations Issued

In the past three months, the city has issued “notice in order” citations for 22 apartments in Buena Clinton. The citations call for the landlords to make badly needed repairs in each apartment within 30 days. Property owners can--and have--sought extensions.

Fifteen of the buildings targeted by the rent strike--all located on Sunswept Avenue--are owned and managed by H&L; Management Co. One of the partners in the company, Edward S. Kuo of Westminster, has accused his tenants of destroying property and generally not keeping up their apartments.

According to property records, three other buildings included in the strike are owned by Alexander S. Lin of Yorba Linda, who has been unavailable for comment.

Lopez said that other property owners could be affected by the rent strike but that he will not know how many, or which ones, until rent payments become overdue and are not paid by the tenants.

Richard L. Spix, Hermandad Mexicana’s staff attorney, said he has handled 30 to 40 individual tenant’s rights cases in the neighborhood during the past three years. He said Sunday that the Buena Clinton rent strike could be successful.

“At this point,” said Spix, “ I think it looks good.”

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