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Skid row tenants accuse landlord of trying to drive them out of building

Skid row tenants accuse landlord of trying to drive them out of building
A sign on L.A.'s skid row, where tenants of a residential hotel have sued the owner, alleging that he is trying to force them out. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

Tenants at a five-story residential hotel on skid row filed suit Monday accusing landlords of launching a campaign of harassment and intimidation to drive them out of the building.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accuses owner Kameron Segal and his management company, William Holdings, of allowing slum-like conditions, including roach and bedbug infestations and clogged toilets, to fester at the 220-unit Madison Hotel on 7th Street.

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The landlords canceled maid service and linen cleaning, quit supplying toilet paper and replacing light bulbs and closed off the lobby and TV room, the suit said. These amenities had long been included for residents, who live in single rooms and share common bathrooms.

Several tenants accused the on-site manager of berating and threatening them with ouster if they complained, and of barging into their units without notice. Managers also barred organizers from Los Angeles Community Action Network, a skid row anti-poverty group, from entering the premises to talk to tenants, the suit said.

A third of the residents have fled Madison Hotel because of the alleged intimidation, and there is some evidence that illegal renovations have begun, the suit said.

A woman who answered the phone at William Holdings offices on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood declined to comment, saying the business had not been served with the lawsuit. The complaint says Segal bought the hotel in June, and William Holdings, a Segal company, manages it.

Residential hotels are the housing of last resort for the city's most impoverished, the suit says, and city ordinances protect them from conversion to market housing without compensation.

Madison Hotel residents pay $290 to $500 a month for single rooms and shared bathrooms. They include many older people and veterans who cannot compete in Los Angeles' overheated rental market, and could end up in the street if forced out of the hotel, lawyers said.

Landlords would have to pay thousands of dollars in tenant relocation fees, and up to millions of dollars to replace lost low-income units, were they to apply to turn the hotel into market housing legally, lawyers said.

Several tenants have complained of landlord violations to the city's Housing and Community Investment Department, but response has been slow, lawyers added.

The complaint was brought by the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and the Inner City Law Center on behalf of 15 tenants and Cangress, the Los Angeles Community Action Network's parent group.

It accuses Segal and his companies of violating fair housing and habitability laws and seeks monetary and punitive damages and attorney fees.

Twitter: @geholland

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