Vol. 11, No. 2,640 - The American Reporter - May 6, 2005

Reporting: California

by Lionel Rolfe
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, California

SAN PEDRO, Calif. -- Effie - her name is actually Afthemia Patsalos - loves her three kids a lot, but there's no doubt that having two children with certifiable mental and physical disabilities can complicate your life immensely. Especially when you deal with the kind of people they wrote anti-discrimination laws for. Like, for instance, her former landlord.

You would think that a landlord - in this case the landlord's name is not known, he is instead represented by a couple of minions - would be smart enough to avoid picking on someone with disabled kids. There are real federal laws against that kind of behavior.

But like many landlords - and their minions - greed has always overridden smarts.

Anyway, in Effie's case, the landlord, or at least his minions, came on the job announcing to anybody who would listen that the property was going to be upgraded.

That meant the "undesirables" had to go. It had nothing to do with paying your rent on time, which Effie always did. Undesirables meant you had kids, and you were especially undesirable if your kids were disabled. The result was that Effie's life became not merely tough, which she's used to, but a living hell.

The moral of Effie's story is this. She's merely another example of what life has become for thousands of people stuck in President George W. Bush's America, a land where landlords, bullies and thugs sometimes rule.

Effie is salt-of-the-earth kind of people. She's a waitress at Canetti's Seafood Grotto on the docks of San Pedro, and a devoted mother. She's a worker from way back, and is used to hardship. There's a willingness to take a lot of tough blows because that's what people like Effie expect from life.

But still, Effie hopes the landlord has to pay her for the misery he caused her and her family. If there's any justice in this world, that is what will happen.

Because of the landlord's desire to upgrade to yuppiedom a building that was built as housing for the families of military personnel, Effie and her children and animals and husband are sleeping in one room at her mom's small place. That's because they finally were kicked out of their apartment of 13 years. Effie says her whole life - and that of her kids - has been destroyed. And she means that literally.

It isn't just the physical inconvenience. It is how all the years that she worked to build up the shaky confidence of sons Michael and Stavros, who live with bipolar disorder and cerebral palsy, has been negated, or at least shaken, or a she puts it, "turned upside down."

She said that her boys do not understand why life has turned on them so.

Effie is fighting back - legally. The Fair Housing Foundation, a non-profit that fights for equal opportunity in housing, is representing her in federal court against Marine View Apartments. But that doesn't help in the day-to-day reality of the indignities she and her children have suffered because of that discrimination.

The Marine View Apartments at 785 28th St. in San Pedro, the old harbor city that surrounds the Port of Los Angeles, was built as housing for Fort MacArthur, the place that was in charge of guarding the whole Southern California coastline for the better part of the last century.

When the apartments were "privatized," things changed. Her memories of the first landlord of several years were good. Not so the second. She said the second landlord decided early on that he was going to get rid of the tenants he didn't like.

Effie's experience may be universal for tenants and landlords. Although Los Angeles has rent control laws, the way they are administered often negates a lot of their good effect. If landlords want to get rid of somebody, eviction courts will go along if it's suggested that the tenant is in any way a "terrorist, drug user," or - presumably - has cats. Someone like Effie, as anti-Republican as you can get, is not the ideal tenant in this benighted place where real estate speculators have always thrived.

Effie believes the new owners apparently figured they could get what they wanted quite easily. They had a list of those they wanted out, she says. In Effie's case, suddenly she had new neighbors who had been in another part of the complex. From the get-go, they called the kids names - and worst of all, they went to eviction court and began lying to get Effie and her family out of the place they had lived in for all those years.

The manager never hid what she wanted. She told Effie that "I can do anything I want to do, and I want your family to move."

It's not an uncommon attitude among landlords - they take the description of themselves as "lords" quite seriously - but it's an attitude that is usually not articulated. After all, history is replete with peasant revolts against their landlords.

Management's first salvo was a three-day eviction notice. Their crime - having cats.

Effie made the argument, with medical documentation, that the cats were necessary for the mental and physical survival of both her sons. The landlord didn't buy it.

Next management demanded that Effie take down her security door and get an approved one that cost $60. She figured she had no choice but to pay. She also paid, without complaining too much, an additional sum of money to modify the door so it could provide her kids some protection from the possibility of falling down the stairs.

Things kept going downhill from there. Stavros, who is 11 now and has cerebral palsy on his left side, is mentally sharp. His disease doesn't do physical damage to his brain. Michael, who is 19, is bipolar, and the disease does affect his mental states.

Getting taunted by the manager and the "neighbors" did neither of her children any good. The Landlord kept saying that playgrounds would be built. They never were. But a basketball hoop by the back door opened up a whole world for Stavros. The landlord ordered her to get rid of it.

It got to the point where the only place children could play was in the driveway. Children were specifically forbidden from playing on the park-like areas with grass and trees. "That was the rule," says Effie.

The new "neighbors" - Effie describes one of them as a pedophile - started hassling the boys, which only made matters worse. They charged them with mischief - saying one smoked marijuana. Effie took him to be officially tested several times, and marijuana was never found in his system.

Yet Effie lost in eviction court in January. It's a long story - the long and the short of it is Effie lost, like a lot of tenants do in landlord courts.

From her standpoint, she felt "justice was a lie. The truth for us was ignored. My children thrown in the street like a piece of garbage. My animals in a kennel for two weeks. Our clothes, our everyday wear is in bags that we are now living out of."

From Effie's standpoint, what the campaign against her and her kids did was damage them immensely and probably permanently.

At the height of the eviction court proceedings, Effie sent her son Michael away to her brother's place in Florida. She didn't want him around as she defended her family against the landlord. They had already done enough damage to him by calling him "mental" to his face. The battle that was joined between Effie and the landlord was intensely vitriolic and she was worried about the effect it would have on him.

Sending him away didn't help too much. Michael felt as if he had done something wrong, yet he didn't know what. He had been doing relatively well in school, in counseling, in therapy, in his life, getting a little bit better day by day. Yet when he came home, his mother told him he couldn't sit on the porch because the neighbors would come by and taunt him. "He became embarrassed and distraught and ashamed," she said.

She didn't want him around because she was worried about how it would tear down the self-esteem that she and others had tried so hard to build up in him, self-esteem that was a necessary therapy for his condition.

Michael, she explains, is "bipolar and creative and makes things and draws and loves animals. He is very loving and caring person with a big heart. He is not cold or hard-core, but because of the bipolar, it's hard for him to understand people's thought processes. Sometimes his emotions get carried away. He gets upset very easily."

Especially now, as they continue living in her mother's place, she has to try and explain things to her sons. "There are people in this world who are miserable and rotten and will do anything to get their way and hurt people."

It was particularly hard explaining what was happening to Stavros. She explained that "justice is not the concern of the court," and many of the courts are "pro-landlord."

Stavros, the younger son, is physically affected by cerebral palsy, but has no mental defects. "He's very intelligent." She notes that on more than one occasion, the mayor's sister, Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, has presented him awards from his school.

He's on top of everything, very pleasant and very respectful to adult authority," Effie said.

But Stavros was crushed when the management made his mother take down his basketball hoop. "They took away my life when I couldn't play outside," he said to his mother. He now feels as if his life is ruined - and he doesn't know what he did to deserve this fate.

Now all in one room at her mother's house, with the animals, with her children, her husband - her sons crying all the time, their faces swathed in constant confusion, Effie says her own heart is broken and she wishes there was a way to make the pain go away. She says that she and her kids have been done wrong big time and that she intends to win her court case against the landlord.

All she can do now is hold them tightly and tell them everything will be OK - that this isn't happening because of anything they did.
"All I can do is tell them I love them," she says.

Lionel Rolfe is the author of "Literary L.A.," "Fat Man on the Left" and the forthcoming "The Uncommon Friendship of Yaltah Menuhin and Willa Cather."

Copyright 2005 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.