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Airbnb sues San Francisco over host-registry law, cites free speech rights

Airbnb has sued the city of San Francisco over a new law that levies a fine for any short-term rental property host who is not registered with the city. The lawsuit comes amid a multi-front assault on Airbnb-like services.

Airbnb announced its lawsuit on Monday, saying the city’s ordinance is “flawed” and is a violation of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) of 1996, the Stored Communications Act and its own free speech rights.

This month, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new law that will require all short-term rental property hosts who work with the likes of Airbnb and VRBO to register with the city. Failure to register will result in a fine, applied to the company, of $1,000 for each unaccounted for host.

“It is a content-based restriction on advertising rental listings, which is speech,” Airbnb said of the ordinance. “These provisions squarely violate the CDA, which prohibits ‘treat[ing]’ websites who host or distribute third-party content, like the Hosting Platforms at issue here, ‘as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider,’ and immunizes them from liability under any ‘inconsistent’ state or local law.”

The ordinance “also violates the federal Stored Communications Act, which creates uniform privacy protections for internet users and prevents cities from simply demanding that platforms turn over user information without a subpoena or other legal process,” the company said in a post on its website.

In addition to its complaint, filed in US District Court in San Francisco, the company has also filed for a preliminary injunction against the ordinance, due to go into effect in a matter of days.

“This is an unprecedented step for Airbnb, and one we do not take lightly, but we believe it’s the best way to protect our community of hosts and guests,” the company said in explaining its opposition to the ordinance and why it has sued in federal court to stop it.

San Francisco has about 9,000 short-term rentals, according to the Los Angeles Times, but only about 1,650 have registered with the city. The city and other governments who have targeted short-term rental property companies have said they are attempting to protect affordable housing options. Unions and the hotel industry have often supported laws against the likes of Airbnb, which, for its part, says it is offering hosts a chance to pay their bills and avoid foreclosure or eviction by renting out their space.

Airbnb, based in San Francisco, said it has gone to great lengths to address the city’s previous concerns, which have been based on the effects of short-term rental property on the city’s limited housing market. Airbnb said it has held 11 town halls and numerous individual meetings with its hosts this year to encourage registering with the city. Now, the city will begin levying fines through what the company called a “hastily-crafted proposal.”

“There is a need for policies that protect San Francisco’s housing stock and ensure the collection of hotel taxes but also enable residents who depend on Airbnb to make ends meet,” the company said. “For over five years, we have worked with City government to create fair rules for home sharing.”

The challenges facing Airbnb and like companies are not limited to San Francisco. In Los Angeles, the city’s Planning Commission recently endorsed proposed rules that would result in fines for short-term rental property companies whose hosts advertise rental space without registering with the city. Companies could also be fined for not offering addresses of hosts not registered with the city.

Companies and industry groups like the Internet Association have said the proposed rules in Los Angeles violate federal law, an argument similar to that of Airbnb regarding the ordinance passed in San Francisco.

Last week, the New York State Senate approved a bill that would outlaw online advertising for short-term rentals of entire apartments, as opposed to rooms or a section of a dwelling. Fines would begin at $1,000 and would increase to as much as $7,500 for repeat offenders who advertise a rental. The state has already banned apartment rentals for less than 30 days.

The bill could be a violation of free speech rights, according to an attorney and vice president with the Goldwater Institute.

“Prohibiting people from advertising their homes online would appear to be a violation of free speech rights,” Christina Sandefur told “Of course, the First Amendment protects the free exchange of information, so long as it isn’t fraudulent or misleading.” (RT)

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Bastrop City Council looks to resolve several lawsuits – Austin American

The Bastrop City Council was in executive session for nearly two hours at its budget workshop meeting Tuesday to discuss several lawsuits waged against the city — a conversation that went so long behind closed doors council members decided to postpone scheduled deliberations over a potential bond election and finances for fiscal year 2017.

During executive sessions, council members discuss city business privately, usually matters involving litigation and real estate deals with privileged information.

When the council returned to open session at 9 p.m., the city manager gave updates on three pending lawsuits, all handled by Frisco-based attorney William Bundren, who the city has paid more than $320,000 since March of last year, according to city finance records.

Bastrop City Council looks to resolve several lawsuits photo

Mary Huber

The city v. the Vandivers

Bastrop filed a civil suit last August against Lynn Rhonda Vandiver and Scottie Vandiver after the city claimed the homeowners “flagrantly and consciously disregarded” city ordinances and zoning laws by building a garage, sunroom and apartment space in back of their Farm Street home. The city claims the Vandivers did not seek a building permit for the structure and were not allowed to construct any accessory dwelling units, only additions to their single family home. However, the Vandivers claim the zoning board did approve the construction, the permit clearly laid out the design, and they had invested “substantial money, time and effort” in the garage addition, which was halted when the city issued a stop work order in July 2014.

Where the suit stands now: The case went into mediation in March — which means that attorneys worked toward a deal without having to go to trial. A settlement agreement did come out of those meetings, City Manager Mike Talbot said. It was submitted to the Vandivers’ attorneys April 20. As of Tuesday evening, the city had not received a response from the couple, and the council voted unanimously to approach the homeowners to let them know they are open to hearing an alternative offer to settle the suit.

Pine Forest Unit 6

Bundren is representing the city of Bastrop, Bastrop County and the Bastrop school district in a lawsuit concerning a parcel of land along Texas 71 known as Pine Forest Unit 6. The local governments obtained a number of lots in this area through foreclosure. They had planned to sell them to developer Robert Leffingwell and Pine Forest Investments Group LLC — with the hopes of building out the neighborhood. But the governments said Leffingwell failed to produce accurate engineering studies, break ground in a timely manner or purchase all the lots wholesale, so they cancelled the contract. The case has been moving through the Bastrop County 21st District Court for about three years. On May 6, Judge Carson Campbell ruled that the long-contested contract was null and void. He also settled disputes regarding the neigbhorhood’s property owners assocation.

Where the suit stands now: Attorneys for Leffingwell filed a motion for a new trial June 6, contending that Campbell was in error when he ruled on the contract case last month. That trial was only supposed to take up issues regarding the property owners assocation, lawyers said. Now, Leffingwell wants his day in court on the contract case. Campbell has not answered the request, nor filed a written order from the hearing that began May 3. There is a hearing scheduled June 29, but the city manager said Tuesday night he wasn’t sure it would still go forward.

The ‘red light camera’ case

The red light camera case originated out of Tarrant County in 2015, when James H. Watson sued the state, three private corporations, a limited liability company and 53 Texas towns — including Bastrop, Austin and Round Rock — over a traffic ticket he received for running a red light. Watson said he was not driving the car at the time he was ticketed and claimed, in his petition, the state’s red light camera laws were “unconstitutional.” He said they cannot prove a vehicle owner allowed the car to be used unlawfully and that they give the owner no chance to defend himself. Watson’s attorneys also claimed the companies operating the cameras had violated federal racketeering, or RICO, laws. For this reason, the case was sent to federal court. A judge ruled that Watson did not have the right to sue parties not directly involved with his citation. The cases against the bulk of the small towns were dismissed for lack of standing, including Bastrop in July 2015.

Where the suit stands now: Watson appealed the case and it has been sent back to Tarrant County state court. At Tuesday’s meeting, the Bastrop City Council instructed Bundren to continue handling the city’s defense. Bastrop installed red light cameras in 2011. Only one is in operation currentlyat Texas 71 and Jackson St., according to police.

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ATM-Fee and Housing-Bias Cases Bolster U.S. Supreme Court Agenda

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to hear eight new cases, including business clashes over ATM fees and housing discrimination, as it bolstered its agenda for the nine-month term that starts in October.

A day after issuing their final rulings before their summer recess, the justices also turned down a handful of appeals, acting in cases involving abortion and union fees.

In the ATM-fee case, the court said it will hear appeals by Visa Inc., MasterCard Inc. and affiliated banks. A lower court allowed lawsuits claiming Visa and MasterCard’s rules prevent some cash machines from charging lower fees for transactions processed on other networks.

Visa and MasterCard argue that the allegations in the lawsuit aren’t specific enough for the case to go forward. The suit also names JPMorgan Chase Co., Bank of America Corp. and Wells Fargo Co. as defendants.

Bank of America and Wells Fargo will also get a hearing as they try to stop lawsuits by Miami over allegedly discriminatory lending practices. The suits claim the banks targeted black and Hispanic customers for predatory loans, causing their homes to fall into foreclosure and contributing to neighborhood blight.

The banks argue the alleged impact on the city was too attenuated to permit Miami’s suits under the U.S. Fair Housing Act. Miami is also pressing a similar suit against Citigroup Inc., which isn’t involved in the Supreme Court case.

The Supreme Court also:

  • Rejected a last-ditch effort by California teachers claiming a First Amendment right not to contribute to the union that represents them. The group had sought to topple laws in more than 20 states requiring public-sector workers to pay union fees, even if they don’t join. In March the court deadlocked, voting 4-4 and leaving those laws intact.

  • Left intact rulings striking down Wisconsin and Mississippi laws requiring abortion doctors to get admitting privileges at a local hospital. The rebuffs follow Monday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down similar Texas regulations as an unnecessary intrusion on the constitutional right of abortion access.

  • Agreed to consider the constitutionality of provisions in federal law that make it harder for some foreign-born children of American men to become citizens than children born abroad to American women. 

  • Accepted an appeal from Venezuela and its state-owned oil company in a dispute stemming from the seizure of drilling rigs. The country is trying to derail a lawsuit by the drilling company, Helmerich Payne Inc., arguing the case is barred by a U.S. sovereign-immunity law.

  • Agreed to review a bankruptcy strategy, known as “structured dismissals,” that lets favored creditors jump the repayment line, sometimes at the expense of parties otherwise be entitled to some recovery.

  • Rejected an appeal by a Washington state grocery store and pharmacy whose owners say they object on religious grounds to regulations requiring them to dispense emergency contraceptives. Three justices voted to hear the case, including Samuel Alito, who wrote that “if this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead, those who value religious freedom have great cause for concern.”

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JAG officer alleges SCRA mortgage loan violations in lawsuit

An Army attorney has filed a federal lawsuit against a mortgage servicing company alleging its officials violated the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act by overcharging her in interest and fees on her mortgage loan.

Army Capt. Melissa A. Dunkley, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, is suing Nationstar Mortgage LLC of Lewisville, Texas. Her attorneys have asked the court to consider it a class-action lawsuit, alleging that the number is “in the thousands” of service members who have been potentially affected. The lawsuit was filed June 22 in the U.S. District Court in Marshall, Texas.

Nationstar didn’t respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.

Dunkley contends that the company began overcharging her for interest, charged late fees and other charges, and in recent weeks has threatened her with foreclosure. She has received numerous debt collection phone calls, sometimes as early as 5 a.m., according to the lawsuit. Over the last two years, she has battled with the company.

Under the SCRA, a 6 percent cap applies to loans that service members incurred before entering active duty — whether that’s Guard and Reserve members called to active duty or service members who took out their loans before entering the military. If the service member’s interest rate is higher than 6 percent, the service member can request the reduction to 6 percent by providing written notice and a copy of military orders to the creditor.

Dunkley bought her house in Topeka, Kansas, in July 2008 with a mortgage loan rate of 6.5 percent, when she was a civilian. In July 2009, she was commissioned as an officer in the Kansas Army National Guard. In 2011, she deployed to Afghanistan, serving as a judge advocate, and requested the interest rate reduction from Bank of America, which was servicing her loan at the time. It reduced the rate to 6 percent.

In September 2012, after applying to transfer to full-time active duty in the Army, she left the Guard and became an active-duty Army officer the next day. All this time, the mortgage servicing companies continued to allow her the 6 percent rate.

Mortgage servicing companies, often separate from the mortgage lender, handle the routine tasks of managing the loan, such as collecting the payments from the borrower and handling the escrow account associated with the loan.

When Nationstar Mortgage took over the servicing of her loan in June 2013, it continued to honor the 6 percent rate. But in May 2014, Dunkley alleges, Nationstar said she was no longer entitled to the protections of the SCRA because her orders didn’t have an “end date” or termination date despite the fact that she is an active-duty officer. Since that time, Dunkley “has written countless letters, sent innumerable faxes and emails and endured dozens of telephone calls from the defendant concerning the interest rate on her promissory note and her payments on the debt,” according to the lawsuit.

“The various responses [Dunkley] has received directing her to submit and re-submit her orders and other documents to [Nationstar] make it abundantly clear that no one who understands anything about the SCRA is reading her letters and/or emails, because the responses are either generic computer-generated responses, or do not in any way respond to the correspondence they reference,” the lawsuit states.

If financial institutions are not including specifics about the SCRA in their policies and procedures, and if they haven’t conducted training for their personnel, these financial institutions could wind up in the same “death spiral” that some banks found themselves in during the past decade, said John Odom, a retired Air Force colonel and one of the attorneys representing Dunkley. One of the results was the SCRA portion of the 2012 settlement known as the National Mortgage Settlement, in which 2,413 service members received a share in a settlement of more than $311 million from mortgage servicers JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, GMAC Mortgage and Bank of America.

That settlement addressed alleged violations of the SCRA between Jan. 1, 2006, and April 4, 2012, in which the servicers foreclosed, without a judicial proceeding, on homes of service members who originated their mortgages before their period of military service or whose servicers obtained a default foreclosure without filing a proper affidavit with the court stating whether the homeowner was in the military.

“I’ve maintained consistently since the 2012 first settlement that if you order them to revise their policies and procedures to comply with the SCRA, they must make sure whoever’s writing those policies and procedures knows what they’re doing,” Odom said.

“I have very little confidence that’s happening. If we get into the same high ops temp, it’s a very real possibility it will happen again.” While there may be few people who have a mortgage interest rate higher than 6 percent these days, there is the possibility of other violations, such as lenders or servicers obtaining default foreclosures without determining whether the homeowner was in the military.

The Dunkley lawsuit asks the court to stop Nationstar from further violating the SCRA; to require Nationstar to remove any adverse credit reporting they may have made as a result of overcharging the interest; and to award monetary damages against Nationstar.

Karen Jowers covers military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times. She can be reached at

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New Bill Seeks to Stop Zombie Foreclosures

Copyright © 2016 NMP Media Corp.

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How Housing’s New Players Spiraled Into Banks’ Old Mistakes

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Todd David Realty on Stopping Home Foreclosures

( — June 22, 2016) Mamaroneck, New York — In today’s volatile real estate market and sluggish economy, many homeowners struggle to pay their mortgages on time. Failure to make timely payments can result in banks moving to foreclose on a property. Todd David Realty, a New York-based real estate firm, has assisted many homeowners with advice on how to stop foreclosures. One of the prevailing industry trends is to sell the home for less than what is owed to the bank. This is referred to as a short sale or a pre-foreclosure sale. By selling the home as a short sale, property owners can avoid the embarrassment associated with bank foreclosures. Todd Gessow, the founder of the Short Sale Network and the company’s principal broker, knows that there are several bank incentives available for homeowners during the short sale process. “Now is a great time to sell a home via a short sale,” says Todd. “Bank and government incentives give homeowners negotiating power during the short sale process.” To learn more about the brokerage and its services, visit

Recent developments in government programs and bank-sponsored incentives signal that lenders are more willing to work with homeowners than ever. Among the government programs, the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives Program (HAFA) recently increased their incentive from $3,000 to $10,000, leaving homeowners with more money for relocation assistance. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service also renewed its Mortgage Forgiveness Debt Relief Act, allowing taxpayers to exclude income from the sale of their principal residence for tax purposes. Several banks have also increased their short sale incentives, with both Chase Bank and Bank of America offering $45,000 incentives to do a short sale in lieu of foreclosure proceedings. “Short sales can be confusing and take time to complete,” adds Todd. “Our expertise, coupled with these programs and incentives, help to reduce the stress and financial uncertainty surrounding the short sale process.”

Todd David Realty and its team of short sale specialists negotiate with lenders to ensure favorable outcomes. The broker can help stop the foreclosure process and give homeowners a fresh start, all at no cost to the property owner. In most cases, lenders forgive the outstanding debt once a short sale agreement has been reached. For more information on the short sale brokerage and their service to the New York metropolitan area, visit

About Todd David Realty, LLC

Serving the New York metropolitan area, Todd David Realty is a state-licensed broker that specializes in managing short sales for homeowners trying to avoid foreclosure on their properties. The firm’s team of short sale specialists work to provide timely advice, legal assistance, and quick processing throughout the process. Based in Mamaroneck, New York, the brokerage has helped hundreds of property owners avoid foreclosure auctions with their expertise in the field of real estate.

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Renters feeling brunt of Southern California housing crunch

German castellanos, 36, had to move from the East Village in Long Beach after his apartment building was bought out. He’s in San Pedro now and was barely able to find a place before he would have been homeless. San Pedro June 22, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Murray / SCNG)

German castellanos, 36, had to move from the East Village in Long Beach after his apartment building was bought out. He’s in San Pedro now and was barely able to find a place before he would have been homeless.
San Pedro June 22, 2016. (Photo by Brittany Murray / SCNG)

German Castellanos stood inside his cozy San Pedro apartment, an acoustic guitar propped against the wall of the tidy living room and his 5-year-old daughter all smiles in her blue, polka dot dress.

The commotion of the Port of Los Angeles seemed far away on that shady stretch of Gaffey Place. Though the apartment is modest, Castellanos says he’s grateful for the current stability after he was cast into the chaos of the rental market in April.

The 36-year-old special education teaching assistant and single father is one of thousands of local renters who face high prices, low vacancy rates and a chaotic market. He moved from San Pedro to Long Beach in April 2015 after a divorce and found a studio apartment for $795 monthly rent in a neighborhood that was diverse and offered good access to amenities, he said.

But then his building was purchased and eviction notices started coming.

While most tenants got 60-day notices, Castellanos said he was told on April 1 to be out in 30 days.

“We had 30 days to clear out and find the right place,” he said. “It’s very expensive. If you’re living paycheck to paycheck, you’d be in debt right now. Every spot I looked at, there (were) at least five other people applying. I was turned down a couple of times.”

In the nick of time, Castellanos was approved for the apartment on Gaffey Place on April 28. He depleted his savings account during the move and now pays $1,200 a month in rent, about a third of his income.

Still, he said, “it’s kind of a happy ending.”

Steep costs

Castellanos’ experience is shared by many in the Southland, where the housing crunch is steep, by any economic measure. A database of housing affordability statistics created by The Associated Press shows the Los Angeles/Orange counties region consistently ranks among the U.S. markets that most stretch the household budgets of homeowners and renters. Data came from census figures through 2014, the latest available.

Among the 40 largest U.S. metro areas, census figures show L.A.-O.C. had the lowest homeownership rate, the most financially stressed owners and the highest percentage of middle-age households that were renters.

The problem has been three decades in the making. The region’s population and economic growth has outpaced local willingness to build more housing. For example, for every four jobs created in L.A.-O.C. and the Inland Empire from 2011-2014, only roughly one new housing unit was permitted.

All told, a shortage of housing options has boosted home prices and rents and essentially raised the entrance fee to Southern California living.

“It’s simple,” said Lucy Dunn, a former state housing chief who now heads the Orange County Business Council. “It’s about the supply.”

Renters feeling brunt

The Great Recession, while painful for most households across the region, has inflicted extra pain on renters.

Easy lending terms of the past decade’s boom allowed too many unqualified house hunters to buy homes. When the economy practically collapsed in 2009-10, many families lost their homes to foreclosure. It was a double-whammy: depressing home values and boosting the need for rentals to accommodate displaced households.

Cheap interest rates, used to stimulate the ailing economy, were a boon to the remaining homeowners. As a result, census stats show that from 2010 to 2014, the cost of owning a home dropped 10 percent in Los Angeles and Orange counties.

Renters were not as lucky.

Heavy demand for rentals pushed up already lofty costs by 3 percent in the region. By census math, the two counties had the third-highest share of renters spending more than 30 percent of their income on housing among the 40 largest markets, at 53 percent.

Price milestone

Locally, the South Bay Association of Realtors reported that the average price of a single-family home topped $1 million in May for the first time since the organization began tracking such records. That figure reflected a 16.7 percent increase over May 2015.

Sheri Fejeran, a Keller Williams Realtor in the beach cities, El Segundo and Torrance for more than 20 years, said she is seeing more people than ever having to lease when they intended to buy.

“Someone who was able to get a loan 10 years ago can’t get a loan now, because the rules and regulations have changed,” she said. “A lot of potential buyers can’t get a loan because they don’t meet some sort of criteria: They don’t have longevity in a job or they don’t have the down payment because of our rising prices.”

Coupled with the South Bay’s lack of housing inventory and space to build, Fejeran said, prices are skyrocketing, with even prospective tenants going head to head in bidding wars.

She estimates those who do sign leases in the South Bay end up spending half their monthly income on rent.

Nowadays, when Fejeran and other real estate agents ask tenants at seminars when they think they’ll be able to afford a home, they just don’t know.

“It’s no longer, ‘I just need to get this next job lined up,’ or ‘I need to get my salary increase,’ or ‘I just have to put one last kid through college,’ ” she said. “It’s more like, ‘Who knows?’ ”

Buying out of reach

Steep costs means some families can’t even grasp the bottom wrung of the ladder.

At 29, Torrance resident Monica Moreno has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, is married to the same sweetheart who took her to prom at North High School and is raising a 3-year-old daughter, Nevaeh.

But there’s one milestone of adult life she has not been able to attain: buying her own home. For the past five years, she and her husband, James Moreno, have been living with her grandparents under the same roof where she grew up near Alpine Village because they can’t find an affordable place they’d like to live in the South Bay.

That wasn’t the plan when James, a security dispatcher at the Port of Long Beach, moved in.

“We started looking and it was like, ‘Let’s try to save up,’ ” Moreno said.

Add Moreno’s nearly $900-a-month student loan debt and a child, and what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement became long term.

Months of actively checking Craigslist, apartment websites and even a paid local service turned into years. The family wants a two-bedroom apartment in Torrance or elsewhere in the South Bay that meets their checklist, but everything is at least $1,600, Moreno said.

With only one parent working at the moment, that’s too much, and they would rather stay with Moreno’s grandparents than somewhere “really unsafe and really sketchy,” she said.

“Now that we have a daughter, we can’t just move anywhere,” Moreno said. “We have to think about her.”

Scouring the market

The search for an affordable place often requires a relentless effort. It can seem like a second job — one with no foreseeable payoff.

Dorothy Veliz spent her 33rd wedding anniversary last week the same way she has each day since learning in May that her landlord was selling the Wilmington home she and her husband have rented for the past 16 years: She desperately scours apartment listing apps on her smartphone, drives through neighborhoods in search of “for rent” signs and has even been exploring rental markets as far as Riverside, Lancaster or Houston, Texas, where she has relatives.

Veliz, 51, and her husband, 58, pay $1,075 a month to rent their 2 1/2-bedroom home, which has a large backyard and a garage. They wanted to buy it from the landlord, but their monthly payment would have skyrocketed to $2,400, she said.

“Now that we got a 60-day notice to vacate starting Monday, everything’s changed,” she said. “We just can’t find anything.”

Veliz is looking for a two- or three-bedroom apartment in the South Bay, Harbor Area or Long Beach that will accept her two dogs for no more than $1,600 a month.

But so far, everything that meets her criteria is well above $2,000, she said, and that’s more than her husband makes in one paycheck as a mechanic at a chassis company in Gardena.

Veliz said she is unable to work because of health problems, including severe anxiety and depression, but she does not qualify for disability benefits.

She briefly worked for a ride-hailing app, but had to stop because of the anxiety and because the low pay wasn’t worth it.

Now, Veliz has resorted to selling belongings, including her van. She tried to buy a mobile home, but couldn’t get a loan.

“I wish I could turn my mind off,” Veliz said. “Every minute of the day, every second — I just can’t shut it down.”

Doubling, tripling up

Housing’s steep financial toll isn’t just a simple pocketbook issue.

It has forced people to cram into residential units — or take long commutes — to save money. That crowds neighborhoods and freeways and puts extra wear and tear on the region’s infrastructure.

To combat financial strain, local renters doubled up in pricey units. In 2014, L.A.-O.C. had the second-most crowded rentals among the 40 largest U.S. markets, with 2.9 people per unit, census data shows.

It’s a trend Fejeran is increasingly seeing in the South Bay.

“We have a lot of beach properties where it’s three single women who are working or going to school and they are sharing rent because they can’t afford it on their own,” she said.

Shima Razipour, a Realtor at Keller Williams in Torrance, said potential tenants now face almost the same level of vetting that buyers do.

She recently helped a couple from Lawndale in their late 30s find a place in Harbor City. They had just about given up after getting denied six times for other apartments in Torrance and Gardena.

When they got denied a seventh time, Razipour figured out why they lost to other tenants.

“I don’t know what happened the previous six times, but this landlord was very particular and it was that they don’t have amazing credit,” Razipour said. “It was very discouraging to have to tell them that. Landlords are becoming more picky and that’s a huge challenge.”

Hopefuls who work in sales or are unmarried face additional scrutiny because landlords question their stability, she said.

Too much good stuff

In many ways, the housing crunch is an outgrowth of a solid economic recovery.

Economist Chris Thornburg doesn’t see a housing affordability problem, noting a decent pace of home-buying after the recession. Rather, there’s a huge imbalance between the success of the region’s job market growing rapidly out of the Great Recession and residential construction.

“Demand is driven by a hot economy and one of the most sublime living environments in the world,” said Thornburg of Beacon Economics. “Supply is constrained because we refuse to take any real actions. We’re becoming a country club region. We are squeezing the little people and keeping the place for the more well-heeled.”

From 2010 to 2014, the L.A.-O.C. region added 349,000 jobs, 6.7 percent growth that easily topped the 3.9 percent growth seen in the nation’s 40 largest metro areas combined, government job stats show.

But developers were scarred from recessionary losses and limited by skittish lenders unwilling to fund much new construction. As a result, construction of new homes and apartments stalled to a pace that’s no more than half of what was considered necessary to house the region’s new workers.

In Long Beach, the mismatch means only roughly 2 percent of apartments are empty, said Spencer Pabst of the Pabst Kinney brokerage. A new rental listing will quickly draw two or three applications without those apartment seekers ever seeing the unit.

“If there’s demand, it’s going to increase prices,” Pabst said.

Thornburg fears the housing crunch is pushing middle-income workers out of the region.

“We’ve ended up with a critical labor shortage in what I’ll call ‘midskill’ jobs,” he said. “Need a machinist or a construction worker? Good luck finding one.”


The regional housing crunch hasn’t abated in the past two years.

Consider that homes have appreciated far faster than local paychecks. That shows up in one measure of home affordability from the National Association of Home Builders, which reflects home gains outstripping raises by at least 5-to-1 in two years.

By the association’s math, just 15.6 percent of homes sold in Los Angeles in the first quarter met “affordable” standards. That’s down from 17.7 percent in 2014.

It’s a dilemma that’s nudging the public, especially in the Western U.S., to believe that an affordable roof over their head — owned or rented — might be a dream.

A recent MacArthur Foundation survey found 77 percent of those polled in Western states agreed it is harder today to have stable, affordable housing than it was for previous generations. That’s the highest share of housing angst of any U.S. region and above the 68 percent who felt the same nationwide.

Rebecca Naser of Hart Research, which conducted the survey, said that despite an overall improving economy and real estate markets, “People look at the (positive) economic indicators and don’t see that in their own lives. People had to go into the red in wake of the housing crisis, and they haven’t caught up.”

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City real estate agency files for bankruptcy

Reading Eagle: Jeremy Drey | This home at 1250 Hill Road in Reading is under lien and faces Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

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Arlington conductor says BNSF derailed his family for 6 1/2 years after wrongful firing

Steve Powell/Staff PhotoCurtis and Kelly Rookaird of Arlington, with sons Reese and Roman, have been involved in a lawsuit with BNSF since 2010.  -

ARLINGTON – For 6 1/2 years, Curtis and Kelly Rookaird feel their lives have been derailed by Burlington Northern Sante Fe. But Curtis said he hopes a federal judge will “stop them in their tracks” next month.

The Rookairds recently won a $1.66 million lawsuit against BNSF, but you wouldn’t know it by listening to them.

“It’s so big; the evil empire,” Kelly said of BNSF. “They think they’re above the law. It’s hard to believe we got a verdict.”

The Rookairds lost everything when Curtis was dismissed from his job as a BNSF conductor Feb. 23, 2010. They lost their “dream home” in Snohomish worth about $1 million. It had a swimming pool and a 1,200-square-foot, high-ceiling living room. It had a tree fort for sons Roman, now 11 1/2, and Reese, 11, whom they had just adopted from Russia. They used to ride go-carts on the three acres.

The Rookairds had to sell a one-of-a-kind Mustang for “next to nothing,” Kelly said. Plans were dropped for a Suncadia cabin. There’s no longer money in the bank for the boys’ college. They even had to borrow money from the First Presbyterian Church of Snohomish.

If not for a complete stranger, Colleen Byrum, who heard about the case 2 1/2 years ago, “we would have been homeless,” Kelly said. Byrum set up an online GoFundMe account that raised a few thousand dollars, without which they wouldn’t have gotten into the home they’re in now. That rental in Gleneagle is “dilapidated, the oldest in the development,” Kelly said. “Our entire lifestyle was thrust away from us,” she said.

The Rookairds haven’t been able to help the boys with special needs as much as they would have liked, Kelly said. “We struggle to pay the bills,” she said, adding they can only afford medications periodically.

They have been selling items, such as Curtis’ wedding ring and a family heirloom, just to make ends meet, and Kelly had to put off eye surgery. They said they even could have lost their boys back to Russia because of their financial woes. On top of all that, Curtis said they owe their lawyers $500,000.

They had to go on welfare. “He couldn’t find anything” for a job, Kelly said, adding being a conductor is not a position people job-hop from. “It’s a thing you retire from.”

Eventually Curtis was retrained and got a commercial driver’s license. He now drives tanker truck, delivering jet fuel in Seattle.

“It’s one-third the pay and more dangerous,” Kelly said.

Rookaird was working near Seattle in 2010 when he and two other crew members were instructed to pick up 40 Hazardous Materials cars containing propane and butane residue. They decided they needed to perform a “transfer train air brake test.”

Kelly interjected, “Safety should always come first.”

They were contacted over the radio by a supervisor, who questioned why the test was being done, but didn’t give them specific orders, Kelly said.

“He wanted them to just push the cars along,” Kelly said.

At the time, Curtis said he and his co-workers thought, “It was the craziest thing, a trap.” He said BNSF sometimes tests workers like that to make sure workers are doing their job right. So he, the brakeman and engineer continued to test the brakes.

But BNSF officials ordered all three home before they could complete their shift. Following a 13-hour investigation, BNSF fired Rookaird and issued record suspensions to the other two – one year for the brakeman and three for the engineer.

Curtis said BNSF claims the trio was “milking the job for overtime” because they had just been switched from 12- to eight-hour shifts and that “we were upset because of our new financial hardship.”

In court, Rookaird contacted the Department of Labor in 2010. Following a three-year investigation, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration found that BNSF had violated administrative law by firing Rookaird because of the air brake safety test. The DOL ordered that Rookaird be immediately reinstated and awarded damages of approximately $136,000.

If BNSF would have accepted that ruling, the Rookairds would not have lost the house. Actually, because of the ruling, they were able to hang on to it for four more years because the mortgage company figured at some point it would get its money. However, during foreclosure, the house was bought out from under them.

Kelly blames BNSF. “They just wanted to stall paying,” she said.

So the Rookairds contacted one of the best whistleblower lawyer firms in the country, Yaeger and Jungbauer, which moved the case to federal court.

Last month, a jury awarded the Rookairds $1.66 million. That included $200,000 in punitive damages because the railroad’s actions were “malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard of (Rookaird’s) rights.”

Kelly is worried their fight isn’t over. BNSF has indicated it is “disappointed” in the verdict and is contemplating an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Curtis doesn’t think the case will go to appeal. He said the judge, who has 26 years experience, knows the case well.

He said BNSF claims it wasn’t able to present all of its evidence at trial, but he wasn’t either. “It’s edited. Certain things are thrown out. There are 8,000 pages of evidence,” he said.

Curtis said the issues with BNSF are political. There are not enough federal rail inspectors, he said. As a result, BNSF has to look like it regulates itself. By making moves like dismissing Curtis, it looks like BNSF is watching its employees. Many have lost their jobs that way, he said. If federal inspectors were more involved there would be citations.

Another problem is management bonuses. If railroad cars don’t move, higher-ups can lose that performance money, he added.

Curtis said his whistleblower case could lead to many ex-employees getting their jobs back.

Kelly went to Washington, D.C., and testified with several others about BNSF to the DOL. OSHA has since come up with a program that if there are three whistleblower complaints against anyone they are put on a “naughty list,” Curtis said.

Curtis, who worked for the railroad for six years, said he became a conductor after just 15 weeks of training, which he said is “scary. It takes years to really learn that job.”

“They don’t care about their employees,” he said. “Do you think they care about their communities?”

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