|Residents of this Baldwin Village apartment complex are resisting a new requirement by their landlord, that all rent payments must be paid online. (Photo by Gary McCarthy)
There's a rumble in the Jungle and it could spread throughout the city.
Hundreds of tenants in apartment complexes in the Crenshaw-area neighborhood we refer to as "The Jungle" are up in arms and are fighting off a unilateral and illegal change in their rental agreements and Los Angeles' biggest tenants rights group has joined the battle.
This war started when Peggy Jones and her Woodland Hills-based Jones & Jones Management Group Inc. sent letters to tenants in her almost 300-unit Woodlake Manor Apartments at 4551 W. Martin Luther King Blvd. informing them that effective Dec. 1, they will be required to pay their rent online.
Mind you, Jones was not offering her tenants alternate way of paying their rent, but was informing them that online was the only way she would accept it.
Bobby Vercher, an upset 40-year resident of Woodlake Manor, denounced the change, pointing out that many of the residents of the rent-controlled apartment complex are elderly and know nothing about computers. He said most of them do not have computers and none of them want to do this thing.
"They want to continue paying rent the way they have all their lives — with checks and money orders," Vercher said.
The letter Jones sent to each tenant was dated Sept. 1 and states: "This letter is intended as a -day notice for the purpose of modifying the terms of your tenancy. Effective December 1, 2011, you will be required to pay your rent ON-LINE."
"We just ignored the letter," Vercher said, "until Stephanie Blair, the leasing agent, informed us in November that she had been told not to accept anyone's rent for December. We tenants held a couple of meetings to discuss what we should do about this new rule and then we learned that identical letters had been sent to the Gloria Homes Apartments across the street, informing them that they had to pay their rent online too," Vercher said.
As it turns out, Jones owns the Gloria Homes Apartments, as well as several other apartments in The Jungle, and is believed to have made her "pay rent online only" demand of the tenants in all of them.
As Dec. 1 neared, I contacted Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, the biggest, baddest tenants rights advocacy organization in the Southland, and he lost his mind when I apprised him of this egregious act by a landlord and he jumped all over it, much to the relief of Vercher and his fellow tenants.
"The landlord states in her letter that she's doing this online rent thing because she's ‘going green' to help the planet and saving trees by eliminating paper checks and envelopes," Gross said, "but the only green she's going for is green bills, which she plans to rake in after she's evicted these people for not paying rent online and replacing them with new tenants paying higher rents.
"And this is not an option being offered," Gross added. "Besides the issue of not being computer savvy, many residents in rent-control housing do not have checking accounts and pay their bills with money orders or cash," Gross said.
After researching Peggy Jones and her Jones & Jones Management Group Inc., Gross discovered that she owns 34 apartment buildings in the city of Los Angeles and potentially thousands of tenants are at the mercy of her serendipitous "going green" scheme, not just Woodlake Manor and the Gloria Homes.
Officials at the Los Angeles City Housing Department have stated repeatedly and emphatically all week that Jones' requirement of online rent payment is totally illegal and the CES attorney went through the city's regulations with a fine-toothed comb looking for whatever loophole Jones thinks she has to bend her tenants to her will. He found none.
"Many tenants don't know their rights, so we'll have to hurry and distribute leaflets at the Jones-owned apartments telling residents what to do about this illegal online thing," Gross said. (Others affected by the Jones online decree can contact Gross and the CES at (213) 252-4411.)
In the meantime, Gross and his CES volunteers will join Woodlake Manor residents Thursday when they go as one big group to pay their rent to the leasing agent, who has already been told not to accept it. The tenants will throw down, with the Housing Department waiting in the wings.
Oh, neither Jones nor her administrative assistant, Trisha Chambray, returned my calls for comment.