USC ANNENBERG SCHOOL FOR COMMUNICATION AND JOURNALISM: Crenshaw Residents File Suit To Reserve The Right To Pay Rent Offline

March 08, 2012

By Logan Heley

Tenants of properties controlled by Jones and Jones Management were notified September 1 that beginning with their December payments they would be required to pay their rent online. Many tenants are over the age of 62 and either don’t trust paying their bills online or don’t own a computer. Margaret Beavers, a Woodlake Manor resident, said she can’t pay her bills online because she’s computer illiterate. And she’s scared she'll be evicted because of the new policy.

“Well I’m 86 years old, I been paying my rent, I’ve lived here 49 years,” Beavers said. “And I thought I was gonna have to get another pacemaker.”

Bet Tzedek Legal Services is representing the Woodlake Manor residents. Lawyer Patsy Van Dyke said the online-only payment policy violates L.A.’s rent stabilization ordinance. The ordinance forbids “a change in the terms of the tenancy that is not the result of an express written agreement signed by both of the parties.” Van Dyke said Jones and Jones Management illegally forced the policy unilaterally on their tenants.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, said Jones and Jones Management told residents the new policy was and effort to make the bill paying process greener and more environmentally friendly. But Gross believes the only green Jones and Jones is worried about is in their wallets. Gross says the online-only payments would scare off many older residents who tend to have lower rents and make room for new tenants and higher rates. Gross says today’s news conference is important.

“And today our statement was that these tenants are united, they have support and are fighting back,” Gross said.

Patsy Van Dyke, the lawyer for the tenants, said residents just want a choice when it comes to paying their rent. She says only four of Jones and Jones Management’s 3,000 tenants are a part of the lawsuit because she wanted to keep it “quick and simple.” Van Dyke says no money is being sought in the suit, only a change in Jones and Jones Management’s policy.

Ellen Kaufman-Wolf is with Wolf Group L.A., the firm representing Jones and Jones Management. She said her clients have allowed tenants to keep paying their bills with checks and money orders since the policy change. And she said they will continue to do so for the near future. She said she hopes this “misunderstanding” can be sorted out soon.