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Must Reads: A 102-year-old woman faces eviction so the landlords’ daughter can move in. It’s completely legal

LOS ANGELES, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, MAY 22, 2019: 102-year-old Thelma Smith, shown in photo right, is
Thelma Smith, a 102-year-old Ladera Heights resident seen in the photo at right, is being evicted from her residence of 30 years. Her longtime neighbor Pauline Cooper, left, is worried about her friend’s situation.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

A 102-year-old woman faces eviction from her longtime residence in unincorporated Ladera Heights so the landlords’ daughter can move in instead, according to an eviction notice the woman received.

Thelma Smith was given notice March 8 that she must vacate the place where she has resided for nearly 30 years.

The woman’s situation has garnered the attention of many throughout the country, including former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who tweeted about his friendship with her.

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Smith’s landlords said they were ending her month-to-month lease because their daughter is graduating from law school.

“The dwelling is needed as her principal place of residence,” the notice said.

They gave the centenarian three months to get out.

Under Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance, a landlord can legally evict a tenant to accommodate a relative’s housing needs. But the city law indicates that if the landlord’s units are of comparable housing, the last person who moved in would be the first person forced to leave. That regulation is meant to protect low-paying tenants from being targeted.

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In greater L.A. County, where a temporary rent stabilization policy for unincorporated areas went into effect in December, the law is weaker.

“They use this law to target long-term, low-paying tenants,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

Pauline Cooper, a longtime neighbor, said that in the last year at least one person has moved out of Smith’s small complex, which consists of three brown Craftsman-style homes with rock landscaping. Cooper didn’t know whether the once-empty space was occupied now, though.

“She’s been there a thousand years and is paying very low rent,” said Cooper, who has lived in the quiet neighborhood, which is south of Culver City and Baldwin Hills, since 1999.

As part of the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, relocation assistance is available for evicted tenants in L.A. who are 62 or older or disabled. But elsewhere in Los Angeles County, there’s no such help.

Smith, who did not wish to be interviewed, is relying on friends and distant family to find a new place to stay, Cooper said.

“I’m trying to get her settled,” Cooper said.

She has offered Smith — a widow she describes as “spry” — a bedroom in her own home, but Smith doesn’t want to go anywhere.

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“The only thing I can say is that I’ve tried to live a good life,” Smith told KCBS-TV Channel 2 this week. “I never wanted to harm anybody.”

Los Angeles approved its Rent Stabilization Ordinance in 1978, and L.A. County passed one in 1979. Four years later, the county’s law expired. If a permanent ordinance does pass, regulations could be added.

“It’s pretty outrageous and heartless to be evicting this woman,” Gross said. “It just shows a perfect example of how tenants without strong rent-controlled protections are vulnerable to displacement and injustices.”

Smith, a former executive secretary for the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, a nonprofit that has served underprivileged youths, recently celebrated her birthday in the home where she’s spent three decades.

The celebration may be her last there. She has until June 30 to vacate the property, her landlords say.

colleen.shalby@latimes.com

@cshalby

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