Residents of the Hotel Clark have fought battle after battle to keep their homes, but now, fed up with deteriorating living conditions, they are waging a multimillion-dollar war.
After quashing periodic eviction notices and enduring last winter's freezing spells with no heat and last spring's 100-plus temperatures with interruptions in their water supply, 20 of the downtown hotel's residents filed a lawsuit Thursday against its past and present owners.
The action alleges that the defendants, a Taiwanese investment group and a hotel development company run by the Chinese government, have "engaged in systematic harassment" to force about 50 residents out of the fatigued, 75-year-old hotel as it is converted into a luxury tourist inn.
"This used to be a really nice place to live," said Don Manning, who has lived at the hotel for 25 years. "In fact, it was the place to live. But when the Chinese took over and decided to rehabilitate the place, all hell broke loose."
The Chinese government purchased the dilapidated property at 4th and Hill streets a little more than a year ago from Sunday Inn Inc. and immediately announced plans for a top-to-bottom renovation that would include the construction of a market for Chinese imports.
The owners of the hotel, May Wah International Enterprises, could not be reached for comment and a manager at the hotel declined to speak until attorneys had a chance to review the lawsuit.
At a press conference in Pershing Square, tenants of the hotel vented their frustrations with "torturous" living conditions that they said had been deliberately inflicted in a campaign by May Wah to force them out of the hotel.
"Last winter, when Los Angeles was in the midst of one of our coldest winters ever, there was no heat in the Clark Hotel," said Ernie Grimsdale, a writer who moved into the hotel in 1986. "Construction crews work through the day and night, yet I can never get anyone to repair my plumbing."
Last summer, the 150 residents who lived at the hotel were forced to temporarily evacuate when fire officials discovered that there was only one exit from the building.
"(May Wah) orchestrated the whole thing to harass us," said Robert Brannon, 38, a bus driver who moved to the Clark six years ago. "A couple of days before the evacuation, they boarded up all but one exit. They cut off all the elevators and took out all the fire extinguishers and smoke detectors."
Since then, 50 tenants--many of whom are elderly and disabled and cannot afford to move into safer dwellings--remained in the poorly lit rooms.
Kim Savage, an attorney for the Legal Aid Foundation, which has represented the tenants in previous disputes, said that under rent stabilization codes residents cannot be forced to evacuate the hotel unless the developers demolish the building or prove that they are taking the rental units off the market.
Last July, May Wah tried the latter tactic, claiming that the company was going to replace the units with luxury hotel rooms. But the Rent Stabilization Board found that converting the rooms into higher-priced accommodations made the evictions illegal.