Slumlord Empire Unmasked

Demonstrators demand justice for tenants of the Morrison Hotel, Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy.
Demonstration photo courtesy of Strategic Actions for a Just Economy.

The Morrison Hotel in Los Angeles, immortalized on the cover of a 1970 Doors album, has returned to the headlines as the target of a high profile anti-slumlord campaign led by Strategic Actions for a Just Economy. Morrison Hotel tenants put up with years of living amidst rats, roaches, chipping lead paint and raw sewage leaks, only to be served with eviction notices meant to empty the building so that it could be sold. When tenants spoke with SAJE organizers, Morrison management retaliated by shutting off electricity and even locking people out of their homes. Tenants and SAJE fought back. It took 50 demonstrators and intervention by the police and city housing officials for tenants to win back access to the building. Since then, the City Attorney has filed a criminal complaint, the City’s Housing Department has taken over rent collection, and the tenants have filed their own lawsuit.

Organizers say that conditions at the Morrison are hardly unique. In common with many west coast cities, low-income communities of color in Los Angeles face intense pressure from gentrification. Lacking affordable housing, families are trapped in inhumane and unhealthy living conditions. Predatory landlords squeeze out rent income, put zero investment into even the most basic maintenance, and then evict tenants to sell buildings for substantial profits in red-hot property markets.

What distinguishes the Morrison Hotel campaign was SAJE’s research that uncovered a pattern of widespread, repeat violations and willful negligence by the owners, the Danpour family. Typically, rental property investors insulate themselves from financial risk by establishing a “limited liability corporation” (LLC) as the legal owner for each building (or every few buildings). The limited liability corporation is a partnership with legal walls that protect assets owned outside of that partnership if there are problems. Each LLC is a separate corporation with a different name, making it appear that there are many different building owners. As a result, when cities track housing code violations, they can miss the pattern of multiple violations in multiple buildings in the hands of a small network of individuals.

SAJE organizers, working with DataCenter, have begun to unmask the Morrison Hotel owners’ real estate industry and business empire. They have found that the Danpours, through the Phoenix Mortgage Corporation, owned at least 35 residential buildings through 20 different LLC’s. One of those buildings has had more than 1,000 code violations, and two others had more than 100 violations each. Henry Danpour, Vice President of Phoenix Mortgage, individually owns another 13 buildings, one of which recently evicted 40 families.

When Jan Perry, the local city representative, was presented with SAJE’s findings she took up their cause. Her staff has arranged meetings with the City Attorney and District Attorney and encouraged them to press charges.

Organizers throughout Los Angeles are paying close attention to the campaign, hoping to gain more effective city enforcement and clear toeholds for campaigns against slumlords in their own communities. SAJE organizers and DataCenter staff are continuing to unravel the complex threads of ownership and financial transactions related to the Morrison Hotel and the Danpour empire, offering other anti-slumlord campaigns a model of what to look for and how to organize and present the findings.

For more information, contact SAJE organizer Andrea Gibbons (213-745-9961, ext 224), or Kim Rodgers (510-835-4692 x306) at the DataCenter.

Kim Rodgers is an Information Activist in DC’s Environmental Justice program.