Santa Fe Art Colony Tenants Hope State Law Can Preserve Their Home’s Affordability

Tenants of an art colony on the southern end of Downtown are facing uncertainty about whether or not they’ll be able to remain residents as a dispute over rent with the landlord continues. It is the latest conflict between the complex’s artist residents and the Miami-based Fifteen Group since the latter acquired the building in 2018.

Earlier this month, despite the artists paying rent, Sylvia Tidwell, the leader of the Santa Fe Art Colony Tenants Association, says tenants are expecting that Fifteen Group will try to evict them, due to a dispute over whether or not the complex’s rents are subject to a new state law.

“On Jan. 2, rent day, 23 of our 37 units paid the rent stipulated by Assembly Bill 1482,” Tidwell told Los Angeles Downtown News. “We paid those rents last week, we were given three-day notices to pay or quit on Monday Jan. 6. For those of us who are not going to pay, which is most of us, we expect unlawful detainer notifications on Friday.”

Those notices are expected after Los Angeles Downtown News went to print.

The latest matter is November rent increases, and what rent assistance programs tenants are eligible for. When an affordable housing covenant expired, Fifteen Group sent out a 12-month notice was issued in October 2018 that units would be brought to market rate in 2019. That would double or in some cases triple rents; Tidwell said that rents could be moved up to $4,000 per month for some artists.

Assembly Bill 1482 was signed into law in October and went into effect at the start of the year. It limits annual rent increases to 5% plus inflation, and once it went into effect on Jan. 1, requires rents to be set to what they were on March 15, 2019. The Santa Fe Art Colony Tenants Association was also using the City of Los Angeles’ Emergency Renters Relief Program, which offers three months of rent assistance for increases of more than 8%. Per the association, eight residents paid their existing rate, plus 8%, and applied for the city’s help.

Amy Forbes, a lawyer representing Fifteen Group, did not comment directly on the matter. However her office shared a Nov. 5 letter sent to Tidwell and the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department saying that the tenants do not qualify under AB 1482.

“We note that you are free to seek rental assistance from the City in accordance with its newly adopted program, but the existence of the program does not relieve you of your obligation to pay rent per the 60-day notice,” the letter concludes. “Moreover, your rent will continue in the same amount past January 1, 2020 because the restrictions on rent increases set forth in §1947.12 do not apply to these initial rents.”

The §1947.12 mentioned is part of the government code pertaining to AB 1482 about rolling back rents, and the letter argues that Nov. 1 2019 rent increases comply with requirements and “represent the one time ‘mark to market’ permitted by §1947.13,” the letter continued.

However, that did not deter tenants. In November, HCIDLA stepped in to help tenants, and got Fifteen Group to accept the assistance checks, provided they came in exactly the same time as the artists’ rent checks. HCIDLA also said that the building qualified under AB 1482. That worked again in December, when an additional 13 artist residents applied for the rent relief program, but Tidwell said January rent payments were met with the pay or quit notices.

City Councilman José Huizar, whose 14th District covers the Santa Fe Art Colony, had backed the tenants in that bid. Huizar’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the latest rent issue by press time.

Tidwell said if the landlord does try to evict them, she thinks they can make a good case to fight that.

“Given that the city has already determined that the rent should be rolled back to the March 15 amount, I think we have a good reason to expect a good shot, but you just don’t know,” Tidwell said.

However, said that for the artists still at the complex, there is a growing sense of uncertainty about whether or not they can stay. The Santa Fe Art Colony is one of the last places in Downtown where artists can afford to live, she said. If priced out, the building could be accessible for non-artist tenants, but not for them.