Some neighbors in a La Crescenta community are learning first-hand how vulnerable some Southern California tenants are to sudden, pricey rent hikes.
Nicci Amberg's nightmare started with a letter from Fusion Property Management, which is the on-site manager for a new ownership group that recently purchased The Summit apartment complex.
"In the last four months, me and four other families received 60-day eviction notices to just get out," said Amberg, who lives in a three-bedroom unit with her husband and three children.
Amberg tells the I-Team that after she and the other tenants ignored the notices, the management rescinded the letters, then sent out new letters to 12 families saying their rent would be increasing by close to $500 a month.
"[The amount is] $425 on the rent," tenant Mero Shishoin said. "And if you add all the 'pluses,' [I'll be paying] like $2,200 a month [total].
The "pluses" include charges for once-included amenities like parking, storage, water, sewer and trash.
Sharon Wilson, 76, lives on a fixed income and says her lease is ending, and worries she won't be able to pay the new rent.
"I am in no condition to go out looking for some place to live," Wilson said.
The rent increases at the Summit are legal because, like many cities and towns in L.A. County, and elsewhere in Southern California, La Crescenta offers no rent control to tenants.
Larry Gross, Executive Director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, says the lack of guaranteed rental protection is a pervasive problem that threatens the financial stability of hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income families around Southern California.
For example, "out of the 800,000-plus rentals in the city of Los Angeles, approximately 638,000 are covered by rent control," said Gross.
That leaves tenants of roughly 162,000 units in L.A. vulnerable to sudden, unexpected rent increases.
Elsewhere in L.A. county, the only cities with rent control are West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills.
"In cases such as [the one involving the complex in La Crescenta, tenants] are totally vulnerable and unprotected," Gross said. "Rent control, while it's not perfect, it provides some type of stability and balance."
Gross says limited rent control only adds to the growing challenges local tenants face, as Southern California rents soar.
A recent survey by the rental search site Apartment List found that "California rents are growing nearly twice as quickly as the national average."
Rent for a two-bedroom apartment has increased 5.8 percent in the past year, according to the site.
The national average hike for that period is 2.7 percent, the site found.
When contacted by the I-Team, a representative of Fusion Property Management said the apartments' new owners are trying to balance their investment, raising the market value of apartments that hadn't been renovated since 1964, and making other major capital improvements.
Fusion's Director of Operations John Flanagan also responded to an I-Team inquiry, saying "We would like to have everyone stay. Tenants are able to transfer to renovated units...but rates are increasing and typically there's about a 50 percent turnover."
Nicci Amberg's fear is that her family will be part of the next turnover, priced out of a home that's become a community since she moved in a dozen years ago.
"Everyone looks out for everyone else's family and kid and there is somebody moving out every day," Amberg said.
For information on tenants’ rights in the Los Angeles area, contact the Coalition for Economic Survival.
CES also offers weekly clinics on tenants’ rights. More information here.
Learn more about the policies for Southern California communities with rent control: