Sky High Rent, Low Class Greed
The other day, all of us here at BlockStudios felt like we were Lola in “Run Lola Run,” racing against the clock with our hair on fire to raise thousands of dollars in cash to keep ourselves from being booted out of our beautiful 17,000 square foot space due to the sky-high greed and low-class chicanery of our landlords, Sky High Investments.
Not that we owed these landlords one red cent in rent, security or anything else. On the contrary, BlockStudios (which includes the Dr. Susan Block Institute, the Bonobo Gang, BlockFilms, Block Entertainment Group, Dr. Suzy’s Speakeasy and the Speakeasy Gallery) was and is all paid up. We have never fallen behind in our rent payments. We’ve been good tenants for over four years, and we have a little over a year left on our lease (drawn up by the landlords’ lawyers), a year we’d like to enjoy without landlord-harassment. It’s only fair.
But greed is a ferocious force of human nature. Greed gobbles up fairness like my snake Evie swallows a mouse. In this case, I was — and still am — the mouse. The greedy snake is Sky High Investments. A couple of the shadowy principals of Sky High are Morad Ben Neman and Saeed Yeroshalmy, represented by the slippery Century City attorney-cum-rent-collector Jack Zakariaie. Unlike my beautiful snake Evie, the Sky High snake isn’t very pretty. Sky High greed, entwined with skyscraping levels of personal callousness and unethical practices makes for a rather ugly predator.
Strike While the Tenant is Sick!
As you know if you keep up with this bloggamy, towards the end of May, I almost dropped dead from septic shock and was rushed to ER at USC. It turns out that I may have contracted this near-lethal infection from being scratched by a rat when a rodent gang suddenly moved into the building (wonder what kind of lease terms they got…). With no help from our landlords, it took us over a week to get rid of these disgusting plague-bearing mammals. Meanwhile, back in ER, all my vital signs were drooping like Rush Limbaugh’s manhood without Viagra. I was unconscious and on life support for over a week, intubated for almost two weeks, and in the hospital for a month. Thanks to the great doctors and nurses at USC, the infection is completely gone, but I’ve still got a long, painful healing process ahead of me.
It was around the time I went into the hospital that the sensitive folks at Sky High Investments, knowing I was sick, decided to give me the thoughtful Get Well Soon Gift of a Three-Day Notice, ordering me to pay three months rent (around 20 grand) in advance immediately or face eviction. Their ostensible reason? I’d been a few days late with the rent. It didn’t matter that even with me half-dead, we’d managed to pay them anyway, albeit a little late. It didn’t matter that as usual, we’d gotten permission from that old Snake-in-the-Century-City-Grass, Jack Zakariaie, to bring our check in a couple days late. We’d been bringing over our rent checks a couple days late for years without a problem. Now suddenly, Sky High was on their high horse, whinnying and whining about our lateness like a hypocrite who curses in private but complains piously about blasphemy in public.
But then, *lateness* had nothing to do with their real reason for trying to force us pay three times the rent or get out. Their real reason is the same reason that America is going down the tubes, being sold off to the weapons dealers, the oil barons, the earth-polluters and China: GREED.
Landlords as Warlords
I know there are some decent landlords out there. I’ve even rented from a few. But most landlords are like warlords; they want more than a fair price for their property. They want booty, and I don’t mean sex. Well, actually, I’ve had a few that wanted sex. But mostly, they want money, money, money.
Like warlords, many landlords rule their tenants like little dictators, stealing deposits, neglecting repairs, demanding and often getting money that isn’t legally owed them. In America’s commercial landlord-tenant court system, virtually all power is given to the property owner. It works rather like the feudal system in Medieval Europe which elevated the noble landlord high above the lowly serfs who worked his land.
Actually, the old feudal system had more security for the tenant than the modern American system. Medieval landlords could be brutal warlords, no doubt, but at least if a serf gave the landlord the requisite number of chickens, hogs or virgin daughters (even if the payment was a couple days late), he got to stay on the land. Modern European landlord-tenant law is even more geared toward renters, especially if they’re citizens. But the modern American system favors the property-owner; and the luckless lease-holder be damned, no matter what the cost to society.
Sky High Rent ~ Greed Gone Wild
Reveling in this system, unrestrained by the law or their own ethics, some landlords’ greed goes wild. This is the real reason why Sky High Investments is trying to force us to pay sky high rent or quit:
See, BlockStudios is located in a part of Downtown LA’s Fashion District which is getting more and more fashionable every day. Hip little shops, galleries, production facilities and photography studios are sprouting up all around us where once there were just dirty old slave-labor sweat shops. BlockStudios has been part of this Downtown Renaissance for almost eight years.
But Sky High Investments doesn’t care about improving Downtown. They’re in the business of making money for themselves. They don’t just own one little house; they own multiple commercial buildings, and one of the partners alone is worth $300 million. They see the Downtown Renaissance not as an enhancement of the quality of city life in LA, but as a “opportunity” for them to get more money for our 17,000 square feet, if they essentially steal it back from us and put it on the market now, even more if they subdivided it. And their tongues are hanging out for that extra money they know they don’t deserve like hungry dogs looking at a tasty sirloin in another dog’s dish.
Mind you, it’s “nothing personal.” These landlords don’t even know me. Maybe the fact they don’t know me makes them feel it’s okay to try to get me out unethically. Not knowing me spares them from feeling for me, my company, the people who work here, and the consequences of their unscrupulous actions. They are like bomber pilots who fly high above the cities and villages they bomb, blithely destroying the lives of people they don’t know.
I did talk to Sky High front man Jack Zakariaie a couple of times on the phone when we negotiated our first lease. Kim has talked to Jack a lot because she’s the one who brings or sends over our rent every month. I never met owner Morad Ben Neman nor his mysterious silent partner (so silent no one will reveal his name). I almost met Saeed Yeroshalmy once. Margo walked me up to his parked Mercedes and tried to introduce us, but Mr. Yeroshalmy was so rude, not even rolling down his window when Margo knocked on it, that we just went on our away. Obviously, these are the kind of Lords of the Land who want to minimize human contact. Perhaps Mr. Yeroshalmy didn’t want to look at us because in his heart he knew that one day he would try harder to get us out of the building than he did with the rats.
But we’ve invested a lot more money and love into this place than the rats, and we don’t scratch or bite (though we’ve been known to sue and win). So we are fighting back, at least for our right to finish our lease, fighting the Sky High mafia, now represented by Eviction Hack and Hatchetman Laurence H. Lishner. American courts are stacked against tenants, but they are not completely unfair. In our second appearance on this ridiculous case, we’ve already managed to win some time and some justice. Our attorney, John Burton, is one of the country’s best civil rights lawyers (he helped me win with my LAPD lawsuits), and though landlord-tenant law isn’t really his field, he has a finely tuned sense of fairness, and writes excellent briefs that tend to put the opposition’s panties in a knot.
Naturally, to stay in this rather expensive courtroom drama, we have to come up with considerable booty, the monetary kind, within tight deadlines. This is where the Run-Lola-Running around town comes in. The other night, when we found out we needed to come up with X number of dollars or die, we did a spontaneous telethon here at BlockStudios, calling everyone we knew who had ever said they had a few spare shekels and wanted to contribute. Maybe we called you. I won’t name names. Calling friends and fans out of the Sky High blue and asking for immediate financial help isn’t easy. Some people react like cockroaches when you turn on the light. They run. Bye-bye, little cucarachas! I’m sure we’ll see you again when the nice dark Speakeasy throws another fabulous event. But now, in the harsh light, when we really need your help, you are so gone.
That’s okay. Several dear, wonderful (and blessedly solvent) friends of the Institute and BlockStudios did come through in big and small ways, and thanks to these amazing good friends (and you know who you are), we were able to meet our deadline the other day. We still have more payments and legal bills, so if we didn’t call you, and you’d like to help – if you’re capable of helping – please email us or call us at 213.749.1330 (ask for David). Btw, not all the contributions are donations per se, some are cash advances on future telephone sex therapy, expert editing by BlockStudios or VIP membership in Dr. Suzy’s Speakeasy.
It’s a tough battle with most of the lethal weaponry owned by the property owners. But we have triumphed over unethical landlord-warlords before, and we are up to this challenge too.
If you’re renting downtown space, and you run across these Sky High scoundrels, BEWARE: Their word and their contracts are worthless.