This week, we’ve got the first edition of Renter’s Hotline, a tenant advice segment. Our first tenant called in from her apartment in West Adams, where she’s had problems with lead paint and a smoldering electrical fire (!!) in her ceiling. And, a dispatch from a man who thinks Venice is the best place in the world, but had to leave to be part of Mayor Karen Bass’s Inside Safe program. Plus, headlines from this week’s news, including an update on our hot labor summer, Hillside Villa, and a protest that shut down the board of supes meeting last week.


Nancy: You’re listening to Smogland Radio, broadcasting from the bus stops, backyard barbeques, and picket lines of Los Angeles. 

I’m your host, Nancy Meza.

Welcome to a new episode of Smogland Radio, a production of LA Public Press. Each episode, we’re gonna be going on a little journey across LA together.

This is your news podcast about the city we all hate to love and loooooove to hate.

But first, here are the headlines from this week’s news.

It’s a hot labor summer here in LA.

The Screen Actors Guild has been on strike since mid-July after talks broke down with the big studios. 

They join Hollywood writers on the picket line, who have now been on strike for almost three months.

Hotel workers have been picketing throughout LA and Orange County since their contract expired on June 30. They want fair wages to be able to afford to live where they work. 

And fast food workers walked out for one day on July 12 for better wages and safer working conditions.

And…Teamsters at UPS have been hard at work getting strike ready across the country, but the strike may NOT happen after all. Union negotiators have finalized a tentative agreement… with management.

But some workers say the raises don’t go far enough, and they’re encouraging others to vote no on the agreement. Teamster locals have reviewed the agreement… and members will vote on it starting August 3rd.

In downtown LA… abolitionist activists shut down the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting last week. Organizers from the Youth Justice Coalition and other groups stood up and began shouting “free our youth and shut it down.”

Protesters were demanding the Board declare a state of emergency inside probation camps. And that they decarcerate all eligible youth.

The demand comes as the public learns more about the inhumane and deplorable conditions inside the camps. That includes rampant sexual assault of minors, and a recent  drug overdose. The population inside these camps are usually between the ages of 12-20   years old 

Following the protest last week, the supes went into closed session, and everyone was forced to leave the boardroom. LA County reporter Ashley Orona was there and was able to capture this audio.

And we’ve got some good news for tenants living at Hillside Villa… the low-income apartment complex in Chinatown.

A judge in San Bernardino says she’s probably gonna give the city of LA a permit… to enter the property, in order to inspect it. She has asked officials and the landlord to appear in court in October to work out the details.

The city says it needs to inspect the property to decide whether to buy it. The development came after years of activism from Hillside Villa tenants and housing organizers. 

Tenants say their landlord Tom Botz has increased rents up to 300%… after an agreement expired that required Botz to keep rent affordable. They have called on the city to seize the building using eminent domain. 

Botz says he won’t sell Hillside Villa no matter what the city does.

And we’ve got an update on the trial of former councilmember Jose Huizar, also known as Sleazy Huizy.

In January, Huizar FINALLLLLLLLYYYYYYY plead guilty to racketeering. Basically, selling out his district to luxury developers in exchange for envelopes of cash and trips to Las Vegas….amongst other favors.  

Now, another developer indicted in the scheme has been sentenced. Dae Yong Lee has been sentenced to six years in federal prison, and a $750,000 fine. His development company was also fined over $1.5 million.

Lee was convicted of paying Huizar a $500,000 bribe. That money was to have Huizar fix a labor dispute at one of Lee’s properties in downtown LA.  Which is so shaaaaaaaaady! 

Also, we’d love to include community updates in the headlines… and luckily for you, you can call them in! Are you a worker on strike? Is there something going on in your community that you want people to know about? Is there a cool party or event coming up? Leave us a voicemail at 323-200-9539 and we might feature it on the podcast!

And now, let’s get on with the show.

We’re gonna dedicate most of the show today to one segment. We’re calling it: Renter’s Hotline.

You know those advice shows that are on every radio station? Maybe you grew up listening to them.

I still remember tuning into this one show on KROQ when I was a Teenager. It was called Love Line and it aired at night from 10pm to midnight. That’s how you KNOW it was juicy!

I would make sure to claim the portable radio we shared as a family. 

I would bring the radio with me to bed and wait till the clock struck 10 PM. Luckily for me, our mom slept with the tv on, so i didn’t really have to sneak around to listen, I just had to stay awake. 

And the thing that made me stay awake was the expert advice. Like there was a literal Doctor answering peoples questions… with facts!

Archival Love Line clip: Roger? You’re 18. What’s up.

My stepfather has been purchasing with marijuana joints and money, my Ritalin.

You mean he’s trading you marijuana for Ritalin? 

Yeah, like a joint for – 

He’s your stepfather?


Nancy: Sometimes, you’ve got a problem where you just need help… from an expert.

And that’s what we’re gonna be doing on today’s show.

We’re gonna bring you expert help… for tenants. Which is most of you, since Los Angeles is a city of RENTERS. 

Every now and then we’re gonna be inviting a listener to call in and get advice about a housing issue.

And today on the show, in our first edition of Renter’s Hotline, we’re joined by our first tenant… Paulina, who lives in West Adams.

We’re also joined by Stephano Medina, a housing lawyer. He currently works at Public Counsel. Where he represents community organizations against gentrification… and also defends tenant protection laws against landlords. Before law school, Stephano worked as a community organizer in the Bay and Los Angeles.

Hey guys.

Stephano: Hi.

Paulina: Hi.

Nancy: Paulina, can you tell us a bit about your housing situation and what neighborhood you’re in?

Paulina: Yeah, of course. So I live in the upstairs unit of a property that has five units. So there’s five, um, apartments.

It’s a really old building, it’s like from the thirties. And we’ve been there for about a year and a half.

Nancy: Awesome. And we’re on the street. Is that you’ve been having, uh, some issues with lead paint. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Paulina: Yeah. Uh, so the other day, maybe like two months, two or three months ago, I ran into our downstairs neighbors and our downstairs neighbors have a one-year-old, and he had just gone to the doctor.

And, uh, his mom, the, my neighbor was like, yeah, the doctor says that he has lead poisoning from our apartment from like the flecks of paint that are like coming off of the windows, mostly like the window frames and the door frames. And, um, I don’t know the details, but like that it had somehow triggered, uh, an LA Health department investigation into the lead in the building, but they only went to their apartment.

And so we have the same exact window frames and door frames and like paint color and everything. So, so yeah, I was like, oh, cool. Yeah. That’s wild.

Nancy: Wow. So Stephano, what would you recommend Paulina do about the situation?

Stephano: Well, you know, um, like you said, I’m a housing lawyer and that means, um, well, I mean, sometimes I have good news and sometimes I have bad news. Um, it’s, I mean, the, it’s mostly bad news. Um, lead is pretty bad for you.

It’s pretty poisonous. We’ve known for over 50 years now how dangerous lead is. It’s especially dangerous for children six and under, but it’s, it’s an extremely toxic chemical for almost everybody. It’s been illegal to use lead-based paint in the United States since 1978, and so you might wonder – you might even assume, like I think a lot of people assume, oh, there’s lead in my apartment. I should tell my landlord, and I’m sure that the landlord will be required by law to get all the lead out of my apartment.

But unfortunately, neither California nor federal law require a landlord to remove lead from an apartment.

Tenants don’t really have rights about lead versus their landlord, um, in most cases until someone has actually experienced lead poisoning. Mm-hmm. That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? 

Paulina: Yeah. Well, so what about this baby? I mean, our neighbors experienced it. As far as I know, she hasn’t — the landlord hasn’t done anything to their apartment, like definitely not to ours, but like I don’t think she’s even done anything in theirs, which is kind of wild.

Stephano: So the laws that do exist, the requirements that landlords do have when it comes to lead is first they have to tell you everything they know.

Another requirement, I mean, it’s very dangerous to work with, with lead-based paint. It’s very dangerous to try to fix the problem on your own. Basically, lead-based paint is, Not dangerous. Um, if it’s in pristine, perfect condition.

And we all know that um, there are a lot of ways in which paint can deteriorate and,

the landlord actually can’t fix the, uh, the job themselves either. There was a law passed in California, uh, just two years ago that strengthened the requirements that have already, that have existed for a long time, that if a landlord is going to, uh, remediate a lead-based paint in a unit, they have to use a special type of contractor, someone who has a license.

So there’s no actual requirement that a landlord do this, but if they do it, it’s gonna be more expensive.

So then how do you get your landlord to actually, uh, do this? One thing you can do, and it sounds like what’s happened in Paulina’s case, is reach out to your local public health department.

And they do tend to be a little bit more proactive about sending an investigator to do something like this. The public health department can and often will order a landlord to fix this problem.

But you know, what happens if the landlord doesn’t, uh, nothing for a very long time. Um, another thing you can do, uh, is sue your landlord and you can sue your landlord just because there’s lead-based paint there. Every landlord, whether we’re talking about lead, whether we’re talking about mold, whether we’re talking about bedbug infestations, every landlord is required to rent a place that’s safe for you to live.

Full stop. If it’s not safe for you to live, then the landlord is breaking the law by renting it to you. So you could sue your landlord and ask a judge somewhere to force your landlord to fix this problem, and that’s a lawsuit that you’re, you know, likely to win.

But the courts that we have in California are made for rich people who have problems with other rich people.

So it would take a lot of time and effort that people, uh, don’t have, uh, to go to the courts and, uh, and, and try to get this problem solved on your own. Um, another thing you can do is organize. But that’s also not easy. That’s also not a quick fix, but it’s often more fun.

The power’s in your hands rather than the Department of Public Health. And there are a lot of ways you can pressure a landlord to do things that they’re supposed to be doing if you’re organized. Um, but like any lawyer, uh, would say, I think the first thing that any tenant should do, Who’s encountering mold in their unit is tell their landlord in a letter.

Tell them what you found, when you found it, who you think is at risk. Because what that letter does is it proves the earliest date when the landlord unequivocally knew about the problem.

Nancy: Yeah, That was great advice. So Paulina, um, I know, I know the situation with the lead and your apartment is wild and. You also shared that that’s not the only issue that’s happening, um, in your building. I know on the day that you moved into the property, there was a fire on the top floor, which — yeah. Can you tell us about that? Like, that’s like the day you moved in.

Paulina: I know, I know. It’s so crazy. We walked into the unit. and hadn’t even turned any lights, which is on, hadn’t moved anything in. We had all our stuff on, in like the driveway ready to move in. And we went upstairs. basically like the attic and it’s like a full on floor, like a full on third floor that you can stand up and stuff. And then my boyfriend is like, I feel like it smells like smoke, And I was like, whatever. You’re being paranoid. And then like a couple minutes later, he’s like, no, like, look, the, there’s like a beam that’s getting smoked.

Like smoke was coming out of like a hole in the wall where like a beam was going into the, into the wall, like an exposed beam. And the exposed beam was getting like smoke stains, like black soot was like covering this beam. And so we were like, what the hell? And shut down all the breakers because the electrical box was right there.

And it’s like embarrassing to admit because it’s like the kind of thing that like now I feel like in retrospect and like I should have called the fire department or something, but like we called the property manager at the time – we called him and was like, ah, there’s smoke. Like what do we do? Um, and he sent like, eventually sent the handyman who like cut the wires in near the breaker that like seemed to be creating this smoke. Basically there were like leftover electrical wires in the wall that weren’t connected to anything anymore that were like smoldering.

And then at that point, like the, the landlord at the time kind of like said that he, he like sent the handyman again a couple times and like, told, told us that they had like hidden away the wires or like checked that there were no more wires, blah, blah, blah.

And then there was it. And then for months we lobbied that landlord to check the electrical systems cuz we’re like, it’s just such an old building, maybe how do we know there aren’t any other wires in the wall that are like ready to smolder?

And, um, that landlord ended up selling the place. To the current landlord who we told all this to

And she said that she was gonna update all the panels in all five units, including the panel that’s outside the building cuz it’s also outdated. But we haven’t had anything done in our unit.

I also don’t know anything about electricity, so like, I don’t know what I’m supposed to be asking for, but nothing’s been done basically in our unit about. The smoke.

Nancy: Yeah. Wow. Stephano, any advice in terms of dealing with fire hazards. Anything in terms of like individual actions or collective actions that Paulina could take?

Stephano: Well, um, sorry that’s happening Paulina, but, um, it’s not random and I think that’s maybe the first thing. I don’t know if that’s gonna make you feel better or worse, but there’s just a long history of exactly what you’re describing. These, uh, electrical fires in West Adams. And Pico Union and Westlake, Mike Davis wrote a lot about it. Uh, rest in peace. Yeah. And it’s ironic because we live in a city, in a part of the world where we talk a lot about fire.

But this was true a hundred years ago and it’s true today, is there’s, there’s just been, uh, a history of the fire department and building and safety in Los Angeles, really not enforcing basic fire safety codes in neighborhoods that are predominantly low-income, predominantly occupied by people of color.

Um, every uh, building in, uh, Los Angeles is supposed to have an inspection.

It’s called ake Inspection, and it’s supposed to happen every few years, but not even that happens. Because we don’t fund things like that. Um. Mm-hmm. But, uh, a hack that, um, uh, I share with people is that it’s actually pretty easy to get a SCEP inspection. S-C-E-P.

Um, if you email, uh, your council office, if you just find the name or the email address for a field deputy in a council office but, um, it all comes back with problems like this. It’s very, it’s almost impossible to get a problem like this fixed by yourself.

Um, because like what has happened to you – landlords can just keep ignoring individual people, uh, complaining even when, like in your case, it’s clearly — that that could have been a life or death situation.

Paulina: They scapegoat you, right? Like, like both of my landlords so far have been like, well what did you guys have plugged in? Yeah. And we’re like, literally nothing.

Yeah, that’s not really the problem.

Stephano: Yeah, that’s not, that’s not what’s going on. I mean, what’s going on is, like I mentioned, there’s a long history of this kind of fire danger in these types of neighborhoods. But going, you know, fast forwarding to now, landlords have been, uh, living with COVID-19 tenant protections, although they just expired, but those lasted for a long time. And even though they were popular with most people and necessary for public health and saved probably tens of thousands of lives, landlords have been pretty petty about the situation.

And the one thing that they have done across the board is just refuse to do these kinds of basic repairs in their mind. They have told themselves, Hey, I’m not getting rent, I’m getting less rent. Why am I gonna spend money, uh, doing these repairs?

Um, mm-hmm. So that is, you know, what’s happening to you is something that I hear every day.

Paulina: It’s so interesting cuz like you observe these things and then to hear someone else reflect it to you, you’re like, oh, I wasn’t like going, it wasn’t like in my head.

That’s so crazy. But it’s funny you mentioned that, um, landlords are like using the COVID protections as excuses, right? I mentioned there’s five units in my, in my, um, in, on the property. And the few times that we’ve tried to talk to our landlord and, and like, like get these things on paper and email and get on the phone with her and all this stuff, she’ll be, she’ll often say like, oh, well there’s this one unit that isn’t paying their rent.

Yeah. And so I can’t, my hands are tied. She’s dividing us and like it feels really shitty. Like that’s, that wasn’t my intention. I’m like, that’s another thing is like, I’m wondering like, what could I be doing? Yeah, because it seems like we’re probably all emailing her. I imagine the same thing, like clearly all of these problems exist in the whole building.

Stephano: Well, I mean, first, uh, yeah, of course you’re feeling a little, uh, guilty. It’s normal. These people have a lot of power over us that we in, in large part because we let them,

I have heard a lot of tenants when I go into their build, into their apartments and point out. Gross code violations. I’ve heard a lot of tenants over the past few years say, yes, but I haven’t been able to pay the rent. So this is fair and it’s not fair. Mm.

But you were mentioning your neighbors and, and how you’re curious. Uh, yeah, just I think we need to start saying hello to the people who live, um, uh, next to us.

The two best strategies that I have seen people use over the past 10 years to get their first tenant union – tenant association meeting is cook something you love, your favorite thing to cook that tastes good, and uh, invite your neighbors over to eat it or do it in the courtyard.

Do it in the back. Have a barbecue – food works. Food is great. The other thing to do, is tell your neighbors that someone is gonna come to the meeting to talk about your rights. Um, I wish there were more housing lawyers in LA. I guess I’ll do it. I do a lot of that.

Uh, you know, I guess I, I do do a lot of that, but, um, 

Nancy: Stephano is always invited to the carne asada. 

Stephano: I eat well, man. I eat well. But, um, I know that other tenant organizations will gladly send someone, at least to the first meeting,

And then if you tell your neighbors that there’s someone who, someone who knows is gonna come and share resources and knowledge, you’re gonna get people to show up.

So between cooking and, you know, inviting the nonprofit industrial complex into your home, you’re likely to have, uh, a successful, uh, meeting. And I think at that meeting, the pitch is we can’t solve these problems by ourselves. But there are things that you can do.

That are often the exact same thing that you’re already doing, like calling your landlord, like sending an email. But what if everybody was calling?

if you were all doing it, if you were all doing it every day for a week, problems would get addressed in many cases.

Nancy: And I feel like Stephano know you’re going into something we wanted to talk about too, which is that — from your work with the LA Tenants Union and just being on the ground lawyer at all the carne asadas, uh, like what are some of the tactics that you’ve seen that have worked.

Stephano: If everyone calls once a day, that’s gonna do something, um, 30 to 40% of the time that’s gonna do something.

I’m a kind, I mean, I’m trying to be less of an angry person every day and organize more from a place of love. Uh, and uh, so, uh, I guess now what I tell people is, Maybe not be so hostile right away, because I have messed up before. I have been too angry too soon. And, uh, the landlord, who ultimately is a human being, uh, which is to say not that, which isn’t to say anything good about them, which is to say that they are like just as imperfect as everyone else.

invite the landlord to one of the food things, you know, feed the landlord.

Uh, if you guys can get along. Then that’s, uh, that’s a better place to start from. But, um, you know, uh, from the angry toolkit, things that I have seen work and that I have liked are, hey man, go to their house. Don’t go to their house and, you know, terrorize their, their dogs, but just like, go and like ring on the doorbell and say, Hey, uh, can I, speak to so-and-so.

Go to the office, all of you. All of you go to the house, all of you go to the office, go more than once. If they’re on the board of a foundation, just say, Hey, I’m just trying to get in touch with this person. We’re dealing with this problem. You know, you don’t have to say, Hey, do you know that your fellow board member is a dirtbag? That’s implied. 

Paulina: That’s implied.

Nancy: That’s just given.

Stephano: Everything I’ve described so far involves no legal risk, really. And so that’s why that’s, those are good things to try. You, there are things you could do to escalate. Um, but those do involve, um, some legal risk. I’ve been involved in rent strikes. Um, things like that and those work too. But that’s another level.

Nancy: Yeah. So one thing I wanted to know about Paulina’s, uh, situation is, especially with the electric, with the electrical fire, right, is that a certain kind of code violation, um, that you know of?

Stephano: Yeah, I mean, there’s a long list of things that are code violations, things that you would expect, like the building might burn down. But also, uh, a very common one is window screens that are missing.

Paulina: Oh, I have a ton of missing window screens.

Stephano: Yeah, those are all illegal and you shouldn’t be paying your rent until they get fixed. 

Paulina: There’s one that’s like halfway there and it flaps in the wind and all the pigeons come and take it so they can make their nests out of it.

Stephano: That’s cute but illegal.

Yeah. So there are things. Maybe one day I’ll write them all down but, um, rather than reciting them all from my head, if something is dangerous, it’s a, it’s a code violation.

If something’s in danger, there’s, yeah, there, there’s a, there’s a code violation. So what do you do if there’s a code violation? You know, there’s the bureaucratic route. I, I guess, do recommend people to reach out to the Los Angeles Housing Department, but mostly because it couldn’t hurt. I’ve never seen the housing department in Los Angeles run to the rescue.

But yeah, the, uh, uh, that’s a code violation and if there’s a code violation, you are legally entitled to withhold rent.

Um, but like with everything, You have to write a letter first. You have to tell your landlord you can’t withhold rent over something you haven’t told your landlord about. But as long as you’ve written, uh, a letter and requested a repair. If there’s something like that, then yeah. Pay a hundred dollars less next month. That’ll get, that’ll get their attention. Now this isn’t the first thing I said because there’s some legal risk involved.

They can evict you for whatever they want. They can take that to the court and the judge will rubber stamp it and there’s no one, there’s no guardian angel at any point in our judicial system that’s gonna stop a landlord from evicting someone for an illegal reason.

But if they try to evict you for it and you show up to your court date or you get a lawyer. all you have to do is. Point to this law. Or say, uh, your Honor, or, uh, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, um, I didn’t pay that hundred dollars because the building was gonna burn down.

And if you don’t believe me, here’s the letter I wrote and here’s the picture I took, and here’s some videos.

Nancy: Awesome. Thanks Paulina, for sharing and for being brave enough to ask these questions that people have been wanting to ask and just haven’t had the courage to do so.

So even just asking the question y’all is powerful, right? Thanks Stephano for providing your awesome advice and insight.

Oh and before we go, a quick disclaimer from Stephano.

Stephano: I should also make a disclaimer. Disclaimer: none of this is legal advice. This is everything I have shared and will share is just general advice. Uh, we’re hearing from Paulina’s situation as an example of what I’m sure a lot of people are going to, going through. Uh, Paulina, if you want legal advice, uh, we should have a private conversation. But I’ve tried to share everything, uh, in a way that would be, uh, helpful for everybody.

Nancy: That was Stephano Medina, giving advice to Paulina, a tenant who lives in West Adams.

If you’d like to be a guest on Renter’s Hotline, you can email us at [email protected], or leave us a voicemail at 323-200-9539. We’d love to hear from you.

We’ll be riiight back.

We’re gonna end this week in Venice with Vernell Gable. He’s lived on the streets there for years.

His encampment was swept away a couple months ago as part of a program called Inside Safe. You might have heard about this program, which was started by Mayor Karen Bass

The idea — supposedly — is to move unhoused residents from our LA streets into hotels and then permanent housing.

So far — LAist reported that the city has spent $40 million and has only brought fourteen-hundred people indoors.

And there have been lots of documented problems with the program. People have been asked to give up their belongings to move into hotels, and then wait indefinitely for housing that may or may not come.

And for Vernell, the program also meant moving into a motel almost fifteen miles away from Venice… the community he has grown to love. 

Vernell spoke to our reporter Elizabeth Chou about how special Venice is to him.

Vernell: Venice is one of the best places in the world. To be homeless at. The best places in the world to mingle.  To show your artistic capabilities, and to grow up inside of it, and become a gang member, and learn from your mistakes. And be out here on the block now, doing something better, than you was doing when you was a kid. That too — that part too. Venice is a melting pot. Venice is a place where everyone can come to, and get on that beach out there, and not judge anybody’s race. We’ve got musicals on the beach, and everybody’s dancing out there with the drums and everything. And ain’t nobody tripping off nobody’s color, where you from. All races out there together partying. Ain’t nobody trying to kill nobody, ain’t nobody trying to fight nobody. Nobody tryna hurt nobody. Everybody’s just out there having fun. Venice is about Muscle Beach. Venice is about graffiti on the walls. Venice is about the man with the white hat on rolling on roller skates. Venice is about some of the hardest hustling white girls I’ve ever seen in my life out here. That’s what Venice is about. Down to earth-ass white girls. Down to earth-ass white boys. Venice has got that like nobody else. Venice ain’t Simi Valley. Simi Valley got a different type of person there. Venice is not Calabasas. Venice is Venice. It’s different from anywhere in the world. You come here, and everybody can have refuge here. No matter where they come. That’s America. Venice is America. Venice is America.

Nancy: Smog Land Radio is produced by Phoenix Tso and Carla Green. I’m your host, Nancy Meza. We’re a production of LA Public Press, a non-profit newsroom for Los Angeles.

Eduardo Arenas made our music, and Jaime Zacarias made our show art. Special thanks to Stephano Medina and the Robinson Space.

Additional music by Epidemic Sound.

Also – we’re a newsroom funded entirely by donations! 

If you like the work that we do, you can support us by becoming a member at slash donate. 

You can also support us by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts, or following us on social media. We’re on all platforms at LA Public Press.

Thanks so much for listening.

We’ll see you back here in a couple weeks for our next episode.