On March 8, 102-year-old Thelma Smith found out that she was being evicted from her home of 30 years. According to the Los Angeles Times, the landlords reportedly decided to end Smith’s month-to-month lease because their daughter was going to make the home her primary residence after graduating from law school.
The eviction notice only gave Smith three months to find somewhere else to live.
KCBS-TV reports that Smith has lost most of her family over the years, including her husband. The few family members remaining live on the east coast. Friends and family are outraged over the notice, and are working together to try and find a place for Smith to live.
A fruit basket from @Schwarzenegger & a promise to help his 102 year old friend Thelma Smith. She’s being evicted from home of nearly 30 years in unincorporated #LaderaHeights so landlord’s daughter can move in. @ABC7 11pm #abc7eyewitness pic.twitter.com/CUxm80I8n9
— Eileen Frere (@abc7eileen) May 25, 2019
Pauline Cooper, Smith’s neighbor since 1999, told the LA Times that in the last year at least one person has moved out of the complex. It is unknown whether that unit remained vacant or not.
Cooper reportedly offered Smith a room in her own home, but Smith doesn’t want to go anywhere. “She’s been there a thousand years and is paying very low rent,” Cooper told the LA Times.
The LA Times reports that according to the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, it is perfectly legal for a landlord to evict a tenant in the event that a relative has a housing need.
The ordinance also offers protection for low-paying tenants, indicating that the most recent person to move in should be the first to be evicted. Unfortunately, Smith lives in Ladera Heights, an unincorporated area of greater Los Angeles County where the law is much weaker.
Even though Smith is eligible for relocation assistance under the ordinance, she still does not know where she will go.
“Right now it’s the unknown that’s bothering her as far relocating her to her new places,” Antonio Avelino, a family friend, told KCBS-TV. “She couldn’t afford it … she would need some assistance from county and other friends to support her in these places.”
Before her retirement, Smith worked as executive secretary for the Sugar Ray Robinson Youth Foundation, a non-profit organization that invests in underprivileged youth.
According to Guidestar, the foundation’s mission is “seeks to build self esteem for underprivileged youth and prevent juvenile delinquency. To provide them with direction and the opportunity to realize their optimal potential.”
While the situation may seem grim, Smith’s time serving her community has granted her some rather influential friendships, including former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Schwarzenegger heard about his friend’s dilemma and took to social media to voice his outrage and vow his assistance.
“Thelma has been a dear friend for a long time,” Schwarzenegger said. “Imagine doing this to a 102-year-old woman who gave back to the community her whole life. It is heartless.”
Thelma has been a dear friend for a long time. Imagine doing this to a 102-year-old woman who gave back to the community her whole life. It is heartless. Thelma, I’ll be reaching out to help. Landlords, you’ll hear from me too. https://t.co/IJQrclGQ6I
— Arnold (@Schwarzenegger) May 24, 2019
Mark Ridley-Thomas, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, has also noticed Smith’s situation, and voiced his own concern on Twitter. “This special lady deserves the best we have to offer and then some,” he said.
We will stay close to this very sensitive matter. This special lady deserves the best we have to offer and then some. @EveryoneIn_LA @LACountyDCBA @EmpowerCongress @ABC7 https://t.co/ADOZ7nMSXG
— Mark Ridley-Thomas (@mridleythomas) May 25, 2019
Smith credits her faith as being part of the secret to her life-filled demeanor at 102. She told KCBS-TV that her secret is “God and clean living.”
“The only thing I can say is that I’ve tried to live a good life,” she said. “I never wanted to harm anybody.”
Thanks to the attention that Schwarzenegger has been able to give to Smith’s situation, KTLA reports that the Los Angeles County Department of Consumer and Business Affairs is now investigating the eviction to see if it violates the county’s interim rental ordinance.
Even though the situation is yet unresolved, Smith is surrounded by support from all across the country. A community fundraising campaign has even been launched on GoFundMe to provide Thelma with financial assistance.
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