Respect the Elders or Family First? A 102-Year-Old Woman Is Being Evicted From Her Home of Nearly 30 Years

Illustration for article titled Respect the Elders or Family First? A 102-Year-Old Woman Is Being Evicted From Her Home of Nearly 30 Years
Photo: nito100/ iStock

Thelma Smith, who is 102 years old, is being evicted from the home in Ladera Heights, Calif., where she has lived for almost 30 years, to make room for the landlord’s daughter.


According to the Los Angeles Times, Smith, who used to be an executive secretary for the nonprofit Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, was told in an official notice March 8 that she must end her monthly lease because her landlord’s daughter was graduating from law school and “the dwelling is needed as her principal place of residence.”

Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance gives a landlord the legal right to evict a tenant so that an “eligible family member”—an immediate family member—can live there. Still, in an effort to protect long-term residents, especially those who pay little in rent, the regulation also states that in buildings with similar units, as in number of bedrooms, the landlord “may recover possession of a rental unit only from a tenant who is the most recent tenant to occupy a rental unit in the building.”

Smith’s friend Pauline Cooper, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1999, said that Smith has “been there a thousand years and is paying very low rent,” the Los Angeles Times reports. Cooper also said that she knows of at least one person who has left the housing complex within the last year, although she is unsure if the unit is still vacant.

Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, said: “It’s pretty outrageous and heartless to be evicting this woman. It just shows a perfect example of how tenants without strong rent-controlled protections are vulnerable to displacement and injustices.”

Cooper has told Smith she could have one of her bedrooms, according to the Los Angeles Times, but understandably, Smith wants to stay where she is. She’s been called “spry” by those who know her, reports the Times, but this is no mere minor disruption to Smith’s life.

“Right now it’s the unknown that’s bothering her as far relocating her to new places,” Antonio Avelino, a family friend, told CBSLA. “She couldn’t afford it; she would need some assistance from county and other friends to support her in these places.” An assisted living facility, for example, would be difficult for her to afford on her fixed income.


As is often the case with those who’ve reached centenarian age, Smith, who is a widow, has also lost most of her immediate family, although she has some relatives on the East Coast, according to CBSLA.

As noted by the Times, “[as] part of the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance, relocation assistance is available for evicted tenants in L.A. who are 62 or older, are handicapped or disabled. But elsewhere in Los Angeles County, there’s no such help.”


“The only thing I can say is that I’ve tried to live a good life,” Smith told CBSLA. “I never wanted to harm anybody.”

When CBSLA’s reporter asked the landlord, “We know legally you can make her leave, but 102? Would you kick out a 102-year-old woman?” he responded: “Would you take care of your child?”


Smith has until June 30 to vacate the property.

Correction: Sept. 16, 2019, 5:49 p.m. ET: This article has been edited to correct the spelling of Larry Gross’ name and the misattribution of a quote. It has also been edited to remove unattributed text and add fuller sourcing.


The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

A lot of people seeing “law school” and assuming the daughter is walking out into a six-figure job. More likely she’s graduating from a lower-tier school with a lot of debt and no job yet. That’s actually far more common than going into Big Law.

I agree kicking a 102-year-old woman into the street is reprehensible, but let’s not assume too much here.