A 102-year-old Los Angeles-area woman has to vacate her longtime apartment to make room for her landlord’s daughter to move in instead.
Thelma Smith, who’s lived in her Ladera Heights residence for nearly 30 years, was hit with an eviction notice March 8 alerting her that she had to go. As reported by The Los Angeles Times, her landlord is ending her month-to-month lease because their daughter is graduating law school.
“The dwelling is needed as her principal place of residence,” the notice read.
They gave Smith until June 30 to have her things moved out.
The elderly woman’s plight has outraged many across the nation, including former California governor and actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took to Twitter to voice his frustration over the incident.
“Thelma has been a dear friend for a long time,” Schwarzenegger, 71, wrote in a Twitter post. “Imagine doing this to a 102-year-old woman who gave back to the community her whole life. It is heartless. Thelma, I’ll be reaching out to help. Landlords, you’ll hear from me too.”
The bizarre situation left many to wonder if the landlords could legally send Smith packing. It turns out, they can.
The Los Angeles Times explained that under Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance, “a landlord can legally evict a tenant to accommodate a relative’s housing needs.” In an effort to protect low-paying tenants from being targeted, the law also stipulates “that if the units are of comparable housing, the last person who moved in would be the first person forced to leave.”
These protections aren’t as strong in surrounding Los Angeles County, where a temporary stabilization policy was just enacted late last year.
“They use this law to target long-term, low-paying tenants,” Larry Gross, executive director for the Coalition for Economic Survival, told the newspaper.
“It’s pretty outrageous and heartless to be evicting this woman,” he added. “It just shows a perfect example of how tenants without strong rent-controlled protections are vulnerable to displacement and injustices.”
One of Smith’s longtime neighbors, Pauline Cooper, said her friend has been living in that apartment “a thousand years” and pays very low rent. Now, that she’s being pushed out, the centenarian is forced to rely on family and friends for a place to stay.
Cooper said she offered to let Smith, whom she described as “spry,” stay at her place, but the elderly woman doesn’t want to go anywhere. Most of Smith’s remaining family lives on the East Coast.
Family friend Antonio Avelino said it’s the uncertainty that’s worrying Smith, as far a relocation goes.
The Times reported that the city of Los Angeles offers relocation assistance to evicted tenants 62 or older, who are handicapped or disabled, via its Rent Stabilization Ordinance. There’s no such help elsewhere in Los Angeles County, however.
“I’m trying to get her settled,” Cooper told the newspaper.
Smith, who once served as executive secretary for the nonprofit Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, recently celebrated her birthday at the home where she’s spent the last 30 years.
Now, she fears the celebration may have been her last.
“The only thing that I can say is that I’ve tried to live a good life,” Smith told CBS Los Angeles in a recent interview. “I’ve never wanted to harm anybody.”
Watch more in the video below.