Last Friday, members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union flocked to the Venice location of the sausage and beer restaurant Wurstküche, wielding picket signs that read “#HomesNotSausages” and “These hot dogs are hambourgeois.” Responding to a post on the LATU Instagram earlier that day, they’d gathered to launch a boycott of the restaurant’s owner, Tyler Wilson, who is in the process of evicting a family that has lived in the home next door to the establishment for more than 23 years.
Patricia Sánchez resides in the small beige house with her husband, Eduardo, and their 21-year-old son and 14-year-old daughter; Wilson purchased the property in 2018. Two months later, Patricia Sánchez received notice that she and her family would have one year to move out of their rent-stabilized home. The document says she is being evicted under the Ellis Act, a controversial California law that allows landlords to eject tenants if the residence is exiting the rental market.
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The Ellis Act typically allows tenants 120 days to vacate the premises. In Sánchez’s case, she was given a year from the initial notice date, per the state law, because her son is autistic. “If we have to move, it’s going to affect us a lot,” she told us in Spanish. “My son’s doctor is nearby [at UCLA] and he’s very familiarized with the neighborhood. If we move, we’d have to start over.”
Sánchez, who has been a member of the L.A. Tenants Union for over five years, is afraid of the strain moving would put on the whole family. Her husband’s work is nearby, as is her daughter’s school, and Sánchez earns a living cleaning houses in the neighborhood.
Since Wilson bought the property, Sánchez claims that trash has been tossed in her yard; the animal control department has been called on her chickens multiple times; and Wilson has repeatedly changed the address where rent payments must be sent, making it difficult for the family to pay on time. “These are the things he does to irritate us,” she says. The fence in her front yard was also removed, which has made her feel unsafe. “It’s about security, especially without our fence, because when we walk out late at night we don’t know who might be out there.”
Sánchez says a second unit on the property was left vacant in 2016 after its 85-year-old tenant was bought out by a previous landlord, and she believes it is now being used by Wilson and his restaurant staff for storage, which means they traverse the property, usually when the family isn’t home.
Wilson says he hasn’t been contacted by Patricia or the L.A. Tenants Union, and denies accusations that he’s hassled Sánchez, called animal control, or improperly accessed the property. He says he doesn’t understand why LATU activists are so upset. “I just bought a house,” says Wilson. “I don’t have a plan for it yet, but I’m losing money every month.” While Wilson says that he’s not sure what he’ll do with the house if the eviction goes through, he is considering living there himself. Being a landlord was never his intention. “I don’t own houses for tenants. That’s not my business.”
Mai Llorens, an LATU organizer who has worked closely with Sánchez on this case, is skeptical. She says it’s not uncommon for landlords to claim that they want to move in or take a house off the market to allow for an Ellis eviction, only to wind up using the building for other purposes. “Either they’re immediately turned into Airbnbs, or they leave it vacant until people stop paying attention and start renting it at market rate,” says Llorens. “That’s why so many apartments in Venice are now $4,000.”
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For Wilson, renting on Airbnb would be out of the question—starting in July, city regulations will ban affordable units like his from short-term rental platforms. If he moves forward with his plan to live on the property, he might also face restrictions put in place by the Mello Act, a California law that preserves affordable housing in coastal areas.
“[The Mello Act] requires you to replace existing affordable units in the case of demolition, redevelopment, or adaptive reuse,” says Bill Przylucki, executive director of People Organized for Westside Renewal (POWER), “which is basically everything that you can do.”
Przylucki says stories like this are not uncommon in Venice, where the speculative real estate market encourages buyers to snatch up properties before they know what they want to use them for. “I’ve seen many landlords use the Ellis Act to remove tenants, only to find out when they want to get building permits that they need to include affordable housing,” he says. “Then you end up with vacant lots in the most expensive submarket in the country, which makes no economic sense.”
As for Sánchez, she says that she and her husband have been looking for a new place to live, but haven’t had much luck finding something affordable. “There’s not much hope, but we’re going to keep fighting so we can stay,” she says. She hopes that Wilson will at least start a conversation with them to come to an agreement.
In the meantime, Llorens says Wilson can expect more of the same backlash from the LATU and its supporters. “People could very easily get involved in the fight to protect this family by simply not eating [at Wurstküche] for the next couple of months,” she says.
To Wilson, Sanchez would simply say, “Don’t evict us. It will be very difficult to look for another place to live. Everything is up in the air, we have to find new doctors for my son, a new school for my daughter. All of this is going to affect my children. They’ve lived here their whole lives.”
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