By Brittney Le
AsAmNews Staff Writer
Angry Chinatown tenants walked out of their apartment Saturday morning in Los Angeles accusing their landlords of illegal rent increases of as high as 50 percent and unfair treatment.
The building at 651 Broadway is owned by Elaine, Howard and Robert Chan. Accompanied by members of Chinatown Community for Equitable Development (CCED) and other protesters, they marched down the streets to Eastern International Bank, where Robert Chan is Board Co-chair.
The tenants expected to hand over a petition to the Chans with over 3,000 signatures protesting the tenant abuse, but the bank employees had locked the doors, preventing the tenants from delivering their letter. A protester pointed out that they have struck fear in the landlords and are making them recognize that what they are doing to the tenants is wrong.
Outside the locked doors of the bank, demonstrators spoke up against the injustices suffered in the building over the years.
One of the newer tenants, Kevin Wong, was among the first to speak at the rally. “We are here today because our renter rights are being violated,” stated Wong. “I’m here for the senior citizens and the tenants and me. We have a list of demands that are being ignored by the slumlord owner Howard Chan. Howard Chan is trying to raise the rent and charge them $100 for a late fee. For me, I’m safe from cancer so I’m supposed to be stress free, and Howard Chan isn’t making it easy for the tenants and me.”
CCED volunteer Katie Wang spoke of the organizing power of the tenants, who have suffered many injustices at the hands of their landlords. “I’ve seen the tenants support, lead, and organize each other – some of whom you just heard from. When they first heard that the landlord was increasing the rent, for some up to 50% more than they were paying, the tenants knew that it was unfair and illegal to pay so much more for the same terrible conditions,” explained Wang. “They fought for their right to the most basic things – like taking a shower, using working toilets, and having rooms free of pests – putting it into writing in a letter to the landlord and requested that he meet with them. When the landlord refused to meet with them, the tenants showed up here to show them that their voices matter. They deserve housing with dignity, and they deserve to stay in their homes.”
Wang goes on to mention the gentrification occurring in LA Chinatown that has also negatively impacted tenants in many other ethnic enclaves across the United States. “Many of you have seen the new developments in Chinatown, like Blossom Plaza,” said Wang. “These new buildings threatened to displace the longtime residents in this community. We will continue to fight alongside the tenants of 651 Broadway as they fight their landlord, and we’ll learn from their unity and strength.”
Tenant demands are outlined fully in the petition – the list includes (but is not limited to) the following:
- “Do not illegally increase rent, and maintain the rents at the current agreed-upon rates. The current rent is already too high, and increases of more than 5% annually are illegal.”
- “Cover the cost and coordinate workers to maintain safe and habitable conditions in the building.” This includes repairing the broken lock on the back door and the front door, replacing the carpets in the common area which they say haven’t been cleaned in years, conducting regular pest control, and replacing the stoves in the kitchen since the ignition is no longer working, among several other issues outlined.
- “Reduce the penalty for late rent and allow one week extension for tenants who are in financial need.” They say “the current penalty rate of $100 is unreasonable for who are paying $300 to $500 rent, on average nearly half their income.”
Mai Chappel, 4-year resident of 651 Broadway, also spoke up to push Howard Chan to change the old carpeting and to take care of the roaches that have been running amok in the building for many years.
Martha Ponce currently lives in Lincoln Heights but made the time to come out to support the tenants. “At one time, we were going through what you all are going through. We had a landlord asking us to leave the apartment building because he wanted to do renovations on it, and he gave us 30 days to leave, but we felt that we didn’t deserve to be thrown out into the streets like animals,” explained Ponce. “So we fought and we did what you’re doing now, and believe me, we made a dent in what they wanted to do with us. Just keep on, keep on doing what you’re doing. Show them that they just can’t throw you out and forget that you’re human beings.”
AsAmNews will follow up with the landlords’ side of the story if we hear from them.
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