Hotel Residents to Take Money and Go : Lawsuit: Tenants agree to leave historic downtown establishment for $86,000 and $250 a month, ending dispute with a development firm.
Residents at the historic Clark Hotel who fought a three-year battle with developers who wanted to give them the boot have agreed to leave--for about $86,000 each and six-year payments of $250 a month.
“I couldn’t feel better,” said Cleo Amundson, a 76-year-old retired clerk who has lived in the downtown Los Angeles hotel for 22 years. “I hit the jackpot, I think.”
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12:00 AM, Aug. 01, 1991
Amundson is among 20 tenants who reached a $1.7-million settlement with May Wah International Enterprise Inc., which was announced Tuesday by the tenants’ attorney, Steven A. Schectman of the West Bay Law Collective.
Amundson was one of the permanent residents who decided to stay when May Wah, a group of government-backed investors from the Guangdong province of China, bought the 11-floor, 550-room hotel at 4th and Hill streets and announced plans to turn it into a higher-priced hotel for daily guests only, as well as a display center for Chinese products.
The hotel’s 150 permanent residents soon found their lives in turmoil as renovations began and services deteriorated. Pressure built to move out and most tenants left, Amundson said. “I was a determined Norwegian. Nobody was going to bump me,” he said.
When the first eviction notices were sent out in 1988, tenants responded, first with a news conference, then with a march on the Chinese Consulate.
Although aides to Mayor Tom Bradley secured an agreement from May Wah that no tenants would be forced out, troubles continued. The tenants, citing lack of heat and hot water and “systematic harassment,” filed their lawsuit in 1989.
“They didn’t want us. That’s why we had to fight,” said Isidore Mandel, a retired phone company worker, who has lived at the Clark for 25 years. Since he only pays $229 a month rent, he was not sure he could afford to leave.
They enlisted the help of Schectman, who practices in San Francisco and Los Angeles and specializes in such cases.
“I’ve spent the last 10 years fighting developers trying to make money by evicting tenants,” he said. By prior agreement with the tenants, he will receive one-third of the settlement as his fee.
Arthur B. Cook, attorney for May Wah, said the owners could not avoid renovating the 77-year-old structure and inconveniencing tenants. “Everything was in bad shape. It was very difficult to do any significant work without running up against a tenant.”
May Wah settled, Cook said, because it was costing $100,000 a month in “negative cash flow” to keep the hotel operating with so few tenants--and because of the lawsuit.
“The lawsuit put a monkey wrench in their ability to raise funds to complete the renovation,” Cook said. Under terms of the settlement, the tenants will leave by Oct. 1.
The Clark was once one of downtown’s finest hotels. Over the years, its clientele was increasingly elderly people on fixed incomes.
Some of the tenants said they hoped to be able to stay downtown. Among them was Robert Brannan, 41, an eight-year resident and a former Greyhound bus driver who said he was sorry to have to leave. “Some feel disappointed it wasn’t higher,” he said of the settlement. “I would have preferred a trial.”
Mandel said he had no idea what he would do with his money. “I’m rich--for the cemetery,” the 78-year-old said. “What am I going to do at my age?”
“I may go to Vegas,” Amundson said, his eyes shining. Then he shook his head. “No, I better put the money in the bank.”