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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 7, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 36
Latino HIV service center sues landlord over eviction
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Latino HIV service center sues landlord over eviction

Owner claims Bienestar 'bringing disease' to building

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Bienestar, a community service organization that offers health counseling, HIV testing, and referrals to the Latino population in Southern California, has filed suit against a former landlord that evicted the group from its Van Nuys office without notice.

According to Bienestar's attorney, Kerrie Campbell, the organization has served the Latino LGBT community in Southern California for more than 20 years at a number of locations.

On August 13, Bienestar opened its new Van Nuys office and by the next day, the new center was fully operational. That same day, the building owner abruptly demanded that Bienestar remove its belongings and leave the premises immediately.

A locksmith arrived a few hours later and changed the locks on the doors. On August 15 - only two days after the center opened - the landlord informed the group that he was immediately and permanently terminating the lease.

'Since that date, the landlord has unlawfully denied Bienestar access to retrieve its property, leaving vulnerable populations without convenient access to critical services,' Campbell said.

According to California law, a landlord normally must give at least 30 days' written notice to terminate a lease. Under a limited set of circumstances, a three-day notice may be given, but that also must be issued in writing. In either case, the tenant is supposed to have an opportunity to respond and to correct any outstanding issues.

DISCRIMINATION CHARGED
On August 31, the group filed suit seeking an injunction to gain access to the property, including confidential client files.

'There is no legal or rational basis for the landlord's highly discriminatory and disruptive action against Bienestar,' Campbell said.

'It is harmful to the Van Nuys community at large and, in particular, its members who need and rely on the organization's services.'

She added that the landlord initially gave no explanation whatsoever for the sudden eviction, and only later claimed that Bienestar's activities are an inappropriate use of the space and that Bienestar is 'bringing disease' to the building.

'Bienestar is taking all necessary and reasonable steps to recover its property, enforce its legal rights, and find a way to continue to provide much-needed services to its clients and the community as quickly and effectively as it can,' Campbell said.

'Bienestar's primary concern, as it has been for 20 years, is the well-being of the people and Southern California communities it serves.'

'We feel that we have been treated unfairly - the landlord's actions are a shocking example of the kind of LGBT and HIV/AIDS discrimination that Bienestar has committed itself to fight against and overcome since we started serving the community in 1989,' Bienestar president Oscar De La O said in a statement.

'This situation is very unexpected and distressing, especially when we have performed these same services half a block down the street from this Van Nuys location for 12 years. We have never faced this kind of situation before at any of our nine Southern California centers,' De La O added.

'We are deeply committed to stopping all forms of LGBT and HIV/AIDS discrimination, including this discrimination against Bienestar as a service provider to the community.'

According to Campbell, Bienestar will be providing limited services for the time being, including case management, rapid HIV testing, and referrals, from its mobile unit stationed in front of the Van Nuys location.

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