All is not well in North Hollywood.
Pretty much everyone in Los Angeles knows someone who has dealt with a bad landlord, or even had one themselves, at some point.
This entry is about one of the worst: Arthur Aslanian.
Aslanian was willing to do anything, including hiring a hitman, to get his way. But Aslanian could not have caused so much harm if the City of Los Angeles, and in particular the Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD) were willing to enforce the city's own laws.
If you are disturbed by what you read below (and you should be!), tell Mayor Karen Bass (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Council President Paul Krekorian (councilmember.Krekorian@lacity.org) that LAHD must be reformed and held accountable, starting with replacing General Manager Ann Sewill.
The media has touched on some of Aslanian's misdeeds, chiefly the murder-for-hire plot, but has largely ignored the terror and trauma he chose to inflict upon a bungalow court filled with innocent renters.
I spoke with two of his harassed tenants, Clare Letmon and Jonpaul Rodriguez, a married couple who have been living in Lourine Court for four and a half years. (TL; DR at the end. All bolding is mine.)
CL: We moved in January of 2019; we're originally from Florida. We got the place, we moved in, we probably signed a terrible lease. We had no idea what our rights were until we began organizing with our neighbors.
But the story starts in 2018. Before we moved in, new ownership had recently served everyone a three-day notice to pay or leave, since they weren't told about the ownership change and had paid rent to the previous owner. That new owner was Arthur [Aslanian].
We were the new tenants by far; some had been there for almost 40 years. Our senior neighbor has been here since 1982. There used to be a church across the street - that was demolished by the fire department. It was mostly bungalow courts on the block, and now the landlords are mostly collecting vacant units to make way for luxury developments.
JP: We saw a lot of what was happening to us happen to other people. He would have gotten away with it if he hadn't also been caught trying to murder these two other men. When we moved here it was such a crazy time and we didn't have jobs, and we didn't get to know our neighbors until the 2020 lockdown. This bungalow court became our world...then in July 2020 we get a knock on our door...a third of the exterior siding on the other building had been torn off.
CL: We think he was making it look nasty and derelict to thwart a possible landmark attempt. [Ed. note: there wasn't a landmark attempt, although the bungalow court is identified in SurveyLA.]
JP: There are ten units here. When we moved here, every single one was full. So it wasn't that hard for us to agree that we should all be talking to each other and organize. But even before we got here, Arthur Aslanian had already given everybody three-day notices, so they'd all had a weird experience with Arthur...we met the previous tenant and with this eviction notice and the fire, they just had serious bad vibes about the Aslanian family. But we didn't know any of that going in; we didn't really deal with management that much. I guess one day Arthur woke up and decided to tear off the siding and expose us to the elements. All ten units are connected to one crawl space, so what you do to one, you do to all of them.
CL: And Arthur even brought that up on a phone call with his insurance investigator. Our original complaint was lack of weatherproofing. His demo permit had been denied by the city, he couldn't Ellis Act us, and he was just going to proceed with making the building uninhabitable so his tenants would leave.
It got struck from the record during the trial, but his property manager's instructions were to make no aesthetic repairs. Everything they did to satisfy city housing inspectors, they just did in the shoddiest way possible. He had orders to comply, to get permits, and told the inspectors that he didn't think he should have to fix this stuff because he was going to demolish this place. He and his workers would come by and just smash the support columns - spray paint squares all over the building where he said they would conduct environmental testing...we eventually called the housing department. He would smash things open and...come up with some sort of reason or excuse why this destruction had to happen...his own workers have described him as obsessed with vacating the building without paying the tenants. Every time a tenant would move out, instead of locking the front door or re-renting them, he would cover the entire exterior with what I would call blight boards - these haphazard, nasty-looking boards to make it look derelict and abandoned. And while it would look bad, they actually broke the locks and their excuse was squatters. During the pandemic, we were all home. We all watched them do this. Homeless folks would come by and ask if they were abandoned...we would tell them no, it's not safe. Vacant units have to be maintained - you can't just let your vacant units get nasty. They have to keep them up, but the city has decided to not enforce that part of the code.
I have the letter from the Housing Department that the building would remain in REAP due to its conditions, and literally three days later we had our first fire. We had another fire and then notification from the city that we were out of REAP. We'd given up on the housing department at this point despite ongoing noncompliance that never, ever, ever got fixed, and then we had the March 18 fire that destroyed a fifth of the building. This was not a new violation. It looked like he got away with it - it took the Feds a full year to indict him for multiple arsons.
JP: We're all here all the time. During the pandemic, everyone really respected the lockdown, and once things became even more sketchy, everyone was keeping an eye on homeless people coming onto the property.
CL: Arthur told everybody that we were all squatters and that basically at some point there was some arrangement that the police shouldn't come without speaking to him first. That was his story - that the court was overrun by squatters. This is his business model - he vacates properties and blights them to build support for their destruction. While we're talking about this place, there's maybe a 4-5 family project a few blocks down, but it's a Sam Aslanian-designed building, which is Arthur's brother.
JP: I spoke with an unhoused neighbor who was living in that building and a group of "thugs" had come in to intimidate them, and the police were eventually called because of the noise the thugs were making.
CL: We were law-abiding, rent-paying tenants. You can't just say we were squatters. He certainly destroyed security features to invite squatters! Then we had the fire and Arthur was arrested and now we never, ever get anybody trying to get into the units.
JP: Sometimes we'll get unhoused folks sitting in the shade for heat relief.
[Ed. note: I had heard about a SWAT raid on the property, and asked Jonpaul and Clare to elaborate.]
CL: So Jonpaul and I were away and staying with family in September 2020 and there were two SWAT raids. They came in very, very early in the morning, guns raised, and at least one of the units of rent-paying tenants had to get on the ground. The occupants [who were the reason for the raid] were associates of Sesar Rivera, Aslanian's co-conspirator who helped arrange the arsons. They found drugs, guns, and key-making machines. They recovered stolen goods - I guess they had some sort of breaking-and-entering theft ring that I think these guys were pulling at other apartments.
CL: Arthur would say those were squatters. If police were called, that was his story, but the fact is they were connected to people under the employment of Arthur. That was how Arthur escaped accountability for that. He'd evicted other people, left the door unlocked, and let them stay there. That just helps the narrative that "oh, this place got torn down by squatters". No! It got torn down by the landlord.
JP: Some of the tenants did self-evict because of the conditions...then two months later was when Arthur tried to illegally lock out our neighbor Jimmy...these workers had broken into Jimmy's home and were removing his belongings while he was out walking his dog and boarding it up. [Neighbor] Angela called the police because there was a stop work order; they weren't allowed to be doing any construction.
CL: I have some pictures of those units after those guys were staying in them. Under the spray paint and the mess you can see that they were perfectly fine; those guys were there to scare and intimidate the other tenants.
JP: Arthur is the type of man who would throw anyone under the bus for self-preservation.
CL: Vulnerable people, maybe without documentation or felons, people dependent on his generosity - when your boss says do this, your family's life and livelihood depend on it and you've seen him throw people out on the street, so why wouldn't he do it to you? But it's been so quiet since the Feds came knocking.
JP: We're in the [NoHo] Arts District, next to a lot of traffic and commerce, but it can get so quiet that you can hear the wind through the trees.
Squirrels and birds and bees - it was better when we had a lot more neighbors. It gets hot in the summer and everyone sits on their porches and shares food and it builds community. It was so exaggerated when we were all stuck at home during the pandemic.
All this talk of healthy housing and healthy communities - secure housing and getting to know your community make tenants stronger, but make tenants a hassle to landlords who just need to extract as much money as possible from a place. People have been sitting out on these porches for 100 years, getting to know their neighbors, and they've always been people new to Los Angeles, and artists, and people in the industry.
CL: There's a project called the Weddington, and the Weddington House is preserved, this giant project next to it is a good example of how you could preserve character in a place, but it all comes down to maximizing units and how many millions of dollars landlords can get for the units at the expense of tenants. We all need green space and sufficient parking, and I know the NIMBY cliche of permitting 138 units with 60 parking spaces - there's a balance, right? Yes, build tall and skinny on the empty lot, but there's a way to densify that doesn't completely obliterate a rare example of a bungalow court in the San Fernando Valley. Once SB330 passed, a building can't be designated historic if the landlord's applications are complete - not approved, just complete. After the fires in 2022, in June, after we'd kicked up a fuss on social media, Arthur started the green space destruction and cut down the 12-foot tall hedge - he was relentless. He hasn't repaired the holes or secured the doors from the fire damage.
JP: The housing department hasn't done anything about the damage.
CL: When he cut down the green space, he sent everything living in the green space into the open crawl space. It was horrific.
JP: May 31 and June 1, they came in and tore all the trees and hedges down, It became one of the first big community actions, us neighbors all had megaphones and used them to call out landlord harassment, trying to get the rest of the street to look at us. We'd been asking community members to call Arthur and his property manager and Paul Krekorian asking him to stop this, and we were able to slow it down. The police came - they sent like 15 cops. But really, it was the birds that saved us.
CL: Yeah, migratory bird law. You cannot cut or trim trees from April to October if there are nesting migratory birds. We had a tenant who knew that and we called a wildlife warden who came, but they can't do anything unless they catch them in the act. We were able to get them to communicate to management that there would be a $30,000 fine if they did not stop destroying this 100-year-old green space. The city won't do anything. It's sort of like Universal cutting the street trees where the actors were striking.
We got served with a nuisance eviction for that, since Jonpaul had a megaphone.
JP: Management still doesn't know what they're dealing with, everyone was suing Arthur except Clare...I think it really confused Arthur and his manager James Lopez that we were not swayed by money or intimidated by them. During this time (2022), after the trees, Arthur was always driving around, he would circle the block and just look at us. He would go behind the building when our elderly neighbor Cathy was getting in her car to go to her job and ask when she was moving out. I've heard of Sesar knocking on doors saying "Arthur wants to talk to you" - Sesar is a very scary-looking dude. He would always come over with little disguises.
[Ed. note: Here's what California state law has to say about stalking, and it's traumatic enough when the person doing it DOESN'T have a key to your home.]
CL: Arthur would come over with little disguises. Scarf, hat, mask and hat - when the health inspector was here Arthur was here too, for something else, and I pointed him out. She asked "are you the owner?" and he wouldn't say yes. The inspector didn't really like that. I've got the logs where he refused them access to units. Anyway, they got a warrant and found two units had been illegally turned into one and both were stripped of their copper (and of course they filed an insurance claim for that). Arthur approached any authority with just complete contempt and disdain.
In hearings with the housing department, he stays quiet or he incriminates himself with lies.
JP: You couldn't stop Arthur. Whenever he got an itch to feel like he was in control, he would do a drive-by and look at the holes from the fire that he made.
CL: He was really astonished that the fire did not vacate the building. We literally have emails to the housing department warning about this, so when it happened and there was no investigation by the city, he thought he'd gotten away with it, and he would have if his guys hadn't turned on him.
JP: The Feds have footage of them walking from the Metro station to our building, and they're literally walking in front of Paul Krekorian's field office having these conversations about how to not get caught committing murder.
JP: Sesar had been picked up by the ATF. He had a friend, Gaspar Pacheco, who was looking for work as a hitman. Once Pacheco is picked up for an unrelated crime, he admitted he had been hired for a murder. The ATF sends an undercover agent to talk to Rivera about this, trying to check out how serious this is, but I guess Sesar becomes very suspicious of the agent, and decides to no longer use Gaspar or this undercover agent and they go with a completely new person, so the ATF moves in and they had Sesar wear a wire, he has a couple of meetings wearing a wire for the ATF. At one point Arthur became suspicious and asked if Sesar was wearing a wire and patted him down a little. They also had mobile surveillance following Sesar and Arthur keeping an eye on them. We went to every day of the trial. Clare took very extensive notes.
CL: There's going to be a hearing August 28. Arthur's going to appeal. But the Feds don't try cases they're not going to win. It didn't take the jury very long [to deliberate]- an afternoon and a morning.
JP: When the jury came back with a guilty verdict on all five counts, I cried. I don't think I'll ever feel as vindicated as I did at that moment.
CL: The total disregard for our health and safety was just dehumanizing. This homeless lady Sesar would do drugs with dropped a match in a window that should not have been open.
[Arthur] was selling to Meta Housing, and I believe they approached us mid-late January about relocation rights, so we were talking to them, being very cooperative. We were happy to hear there would be a change in ownership because Arthur was so dangerous, then the fire happened while in escrow, and the sale fell through. I'm not convinced the fire wasn't revenge for talking to the buyer.
JP: Arthur is using the property manager and his "land use consultant" Athena Womack as his mouthpieces.
CL: We did not get properly served with Ellis Act eviction notices until June 26 of this year. They were doing the bare minimum legal process to get us out.
JP: Arthur is still our landlord. He is still the person we are expected to send our rent to. We believe the new management company absorbed Arthur's company, but there's not been any recorded sale yet.
CL: They've been saying it's sold as of February but there's no recorded sale and they're not talking to us. Tarek El Moussa is filming promos in front of Arthur's arson to pitch to investors this opportunity. The only thing the city did after the two arsons was expedite his permits.
JP: We're not allowed to file complaints anymore, despite the building on one side being a blight. They have something called an EMU - the Emergency Management Unit - that they created during the pandemic, and an EMU's only job is to keep a record on whether the building is condemned or not. The Housing Department told me they were still waiting to hear from Arthur and I called the same guy, Juan Medina and Ricky Reisner, and asked when they were going to fix the building, a year after the fire. We still haven't gotten an answer.
CL: The fact is, the city wants the project and doesn't want to deal with holding Arthur accountable for anything he did.
JP: There have been so many notices pinned to this building by the Housing Department, and they probably could have taken it out of his ownership. They had to get us out of REAP and were supposed to fix the building, but wouldn't do it. Nothing was done.
I don't know when Tarek was brought in, but the first time I saw him was at the end of April. Unfortunately I had just broken my cell phone and then I saw a small film crew a month later. I had no idea who he was.
CL: Someone in our group chat sent an Urbanize LA article about construction beginning in August and only then did we get eviction notices.
JP: On every single platform Tarek had been posting about the property for a while and had some rooftop party where they made this announcement for an off-market deal with a bunch of investors. During these pitch meetings he usually allows someone else with the company to do all the talking. So these people have been making their living flipping houses and I guess they've always wanted to become real estate investors and I guess NoHo 138 is one of their first projects. I sent an email to Tarek's PR person, messaged him on Instagram, never heard back. Tarek was clearly caught off guard with public shaming; I don't know how much Tarek knew. But now he does. And we were going back and forth on Zoom about tenants and resources. He claims he has no involvement with this, but he is building the building that Arthur wants, and there is no justice if Arthur gets what he wants.
In a perfect world, I would love to be safe in these bungalows and raise my children here, and the previous tenants felt the same way. It could have been the place where they stayed forever. But anyone who had anything to gain [financially] just wants to get rid of it.
Tarek has seemingly cut off communication because he doesn't like that we are "bashing" him on the internet.
CL: And by "bash" we mean just point out that he is the new developer and stands to profit from Arthur's crimes and tenants' suffering. Nobody's helping Cathy find affordable housing and she has a disabled son; they can't go to senior housing. This new relocation consultant is sending us listings for $1900-2200 for comparable one-bedroom apartments. That doesn't compare to a porch, a patio, green space, and neighbors. It's not affordable to us, so why are so many seniors becoming homeless? They keep getting evicted from their RSO apartments. The city pretends to care about homelessness, but they allow so much destruction of affordable housing. You have to build, but if you build where RSO used to be, you're pushing people into an unstable situation.
JP: Most of us are writers or actors in NoHo. It's unfeasible for a street of this size to support a building of that size...I don't know how many people can afford what they're asking in rent.
CL: The target rent is like $3200 and there will be like 14 low-income units, but there's 17 affordable units now and they're not even replacing that. The permits will tear out everything, even the street trees, and not put in enough parking. The electrical infrastructure alone will require tearing up the whole street. And construction will take THREE YEARS.
JP: The street is a collection of people who have been here for decades and they're all distraught over everything they've seen. We're seeing what evidence we can get from the Federal trial so we can someday produce a documentary on what we went through. It's the craziest thing that has ever happened in my whole life.
TL; DR: the landlord from hell harassed tenants for years, arranged two arson fires that endangered the lives of residents, escaped responsibility again and again, and is only in prison because his own goons turned on him in a murder-for-hire case. The city has done basically nothing and refuses to protect the tenants.
Tarek, if you're reading this: It's not too late to change course and do the right thing. A project of NoHo 138's magnitude can be built in a way, and in a place, that doesn't displace low-income renters - in fact, there are several empty abated properties in North Hollywood, some of which are already vacant lots.
While I will give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that you were truly unaware of Aslanian's crimes (and all the lies he's told), continuing to partner with an unrepentant and dangerous felon who knowingly endangered tenants' lives and wellbeing for his own financial gain is REALLY not a good look - particularly in a neighborhood where so many people are struggling financially due to the ongoing entertainment industry strikes.
Also, blocking people who are rightly pointing out your role in this mess doesn't make you look any better. You appear to be doubling down on a bad move, and that tends to backfire.
This isn't Orange County. More than half of Angelenos are renters.
Do you want to be the guy who kept a deal with the Devil, or do you want to be the guy who did right by Angelenos?