Thelma Smith, a 102-year-old woman, is being evicted from her longtime residence in Ladera Heights, Calif., so the landlord’s daughter can move in instead.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Smith is a former executive secretary for the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, a nonprofit for underprivileged youth. She has lived in the residence for nearly three decades.
She was told in an official notice March 8 that she must end her month-to-month lease for the home. Her landlords noted that they were ending the lease after 30 years because their daughter is graduating from law school.
“The dwelling is needed as her principal place of residence,” the notice said.
Under the Los Angeles’ Rent Stabilization Ordinance, a landlord can legally evict a tenant to accommodate a relative. Still, in an effort to protect low-paying residents from being evicted, the regulation states that if the units are comparable, the last person who moved into the building would be the first person forced to leave.
Pauline Cooper, a friend and longtime neighbor of Smith, said that within the last year at least one person has moved from the complex comprised of three units but is unsure if the once-empty unit is occupied now.
“She’s been there a thousand years and is paying very low rent,” said Larry Cooper, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival. “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.”
Pauline Cooper has offered Smith a bedroom in her own home but, understandably, Smith wants to stay where she is. She’s been called energetic and 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,” said family friend Antonio Avelino to CBSLA. “She couldn’t afford it; she would need some assistance from county and other friends to support her in these places.”
As is often the case with those who’ve reached centenarian age, Smith has lost most of her immediate family, including her husband. Her remaining family and friends on the East Coast say she has limited options and assisted living communities are difficult to afford on her fixed income.
As noted by 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.”
CBS’s Amy Johnson spoke to the landlord, questioning his sense of compassion for the elderly.
“We know legally you can make her leave but 102? Would you kick out a 102-year-old woman?” asked Johnson.
The landlord replied by saying, “Would you take care of your child?”
Smith has until June 30 to vacate the property.