‘Why would you not take free money?’: Valley Village tenant says landlord refused rent relief payment, sent eviction notice instead

Noble Horvath

Thousands of struggling Angelenos applied for and received rental assistance in July, and while most had the one-time payment accepted by their landlords, some say property owners won’t accept it, leaving tenants even further behind. Michael Farris has lived in a Valley Village apartment complex for five years and says […]

Thousands of struggling Angelenos applied for and received rental assistance in July, and while most had the one-time payment accepted by their landlords, some say property owners won’t accept it, leaving tenants even further behind.

Michael Farris has lived in a Valley Village apartment complex for five years and says he’s never had a problem with the building management until now. Like thousands of others, he lost his job in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Farris says he applied for the Los Angeles Emergency Renters Assistance Program and was approved for one month of aid.

The L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department created the subsidy program using federal stimulus money. The funds are paid directly to landlords, rather than as a payment to tenants.

Farris was thrilled to get the help, he says, but his excitement was short lived.

“Unfortunately, they have come back and said (they’re) not going to accept it and haven’t given reason why,” he said.

He received a letter stating, “We do not accept the terms that the city of LA has provided.”

Farris has been demanding an answer from his landlord since then.

“All of a sudden, I got a notice saying I violated the lease by smoking in my apartment, which isn’t true,” he said. “It’s odd timing. I push back — them not taking free money — and all of a sudden I’m the problem.”

Officials with the city’s housing department say landlords don’t have to participate in the program.

If a landlord agrees to accept the payment, they must also accept certain basic tenant protections such as not imposing interest, late fees or rent increases, and they must agree not to evict them.

City officials say they’re looking to revamp the agreement to make the program more appealing to landlords and they’re contacting those who have turned it down to explain they’re not asking for anything that isn’t already a city mandate.

“I get it. I understand that landlords are being hit too. It’s a crazy time,” Farris said. “I don’t want them to think I’m trying to take advantage of them. … If Eric Garcetti said this is good for people who lost jobs, then why is it written that landlords could not accept it?”

Farris says he got an eviction notice last week because he is now behind on rent since his landloard won’t accept the payment. One of his neighbors is in the same situation, he says.

“Why would you not take free money?” Farris questioned.

KTLA made numerous attempts to reach Farris’ landlord but had not heard back Thursday night.

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