This morning the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged a motion for a preliminary injunction in a Superior Court lawsuit that would limit the residents of a HUD-subsidized housing project from inviting tenant organizers to their apartments to help improve conditions.
The ACLU says the lawsuit, L.A. Coalition for Economic Survival, et al. (Case # BC 184443) is an attempt by the building's management to thwart the free speech, privacy, associational and property rights of the residents of L.A. Gardens, located in the Pico-Union area of downtown Los Angeles. The ACLU says the injunction motion lacks merit and that the landlord's actions violate federal and state constitutions and federal laws governing federally-subsidized housing. Defendants are staff members with both the Coalition for Economic Survival and the Los Angeles Center for Economic Survival, both long-time community-based tenants' rights organizations that have worked with L.A. Gardens' tenants since 1995. Staff from both groups were invited to meetings by residents. After the organizers arrived, a building manager called the LAPD and had them arrested, even though residents told police that they had invited the organizers.
Both tenant groups have participated in resident meetings in an orderly manner and with the approval and funding of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development which supports tenant organizing activities under federal housing regulations.
In papers filed in this case, the ACLU call the motion for a preliminary injunction ". . .the landlord's latest move in a campaign of harassment and intimidation waged against tenants and their invited tenant organizers alike, a campaign that has included the unlawful citizen's arrests of tenant organizers and threatened further arrests against both tenants and their invited guests."
ACLU attorneys call attempts to restrict tenant organizers draconian. For example, under the terms of the proposed preliminary injunction, residents would be required to give the building management 48 hours notice of any meetings. The injunction would prohibit the organizers from accompanying a tenant to the door of a neighbor to discuss matters of common concern, even if the neighbor requests such a meeting.
The ACLU says that plaintiffs failed to prove that any of the tenant organizers ever trespassed. In fact, the ACLU said, at all times, the defendants were invited by residents who wanted to speak with them. Under HUD guidelines, tenants and their invited guests may engage in "reasonable canvassing" about tenant concerns, building governance, and related matters, activities which are encouraged and funded under a HUD outreach and training grant.