Screengrab: YouTube/Tarek El Moussa
HGTV star Tarek El Moussa has been advertising his “biggest flip ever” in bombastic social media videos soliciting investors to purchase and then demolish five bungalows in Hollywood in order to build a highrise. There’s just one problem: The tenants who live there are being forced to leave, and they’re not happy. El Moussa, who hosted HGTV’s house-flipping show “Flip or Flop” and now hosts “The Flipping El Moussas” on the same network with his wife, Selling Sunset star Heather Rae El Moussa, posted a video of himself standing in front of the property calling it the “biggest flip I have ever done in my life.”
“We’re gonna tear it down and build a brand new 138-unit apartment complex,” El Moussa says in the May 23 video. El Moussa predicts he will make $80 million on the project when he eventually sells it. At the end of the video, he asks for investors to help him fund the flip. Tenants received notices to quit from the residences’ current owner under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants if a building is being demolished or otherwise removed from the rental market. Tenants may receive relocation assistance under the law, but want to stay in their apartments, which are rent stabilized and are troubled by El Moussa’s video promotions. The remaining tenants have been railing against El Moussa on their instagram account as Hartsook Tenant Association, which they formed during a years-long ordeal with their current landlord. That landlord is Arthur Aslanian, who was arrested last September by federal authorities in a murder-for-hire plot. Aslanian, who had hired an employee to contract a hitman to kill two people, also hired people to set fire to a building on the Hartsook Street property in February and March of 2022, after Aslanian had been trying to evict tenants. Aslanian was found guilty in July of conspiracy and use of interstate commerce for murder-for-hire, as well as arson, attempted arson, and conspiracy to commit arson.
Clare Letmon, 32, is one of the 5 remaining tenants at the 16-unit complex of bungalows. Letmon, who is pregnant, lives in a one bedroom apartment with her husband. She said that Aslanian’s actions weigh heavily on tenants. “The previous owner tried to kill us,” Letmon said of the arson.In an email to El Moussa shared with Motherboard, Letmon wrote that “this ‘once in a lifetime’ deal for you is the result of years of trauma for us (the damage shown in your promo videos is literally the result of the landlord's arson of the building while we slept inside),” she said. “This filming in front of our home is extremely triggering and we would respectfully appreciate if you refrained from doing so and using that footage in the future.” She said that El Moussa had blocked some tenants on social media.“I am new to this situation and I do not have all of the details and I’m just trying to help. I look forward to a positive and productive conversation,” El Moussa responded, and proposed a Zoom meeting.After some back-and-forth scheduling a Zoom call with tenants, El Moussa attached a screenshot from the Hartsook Tenant Association Instagram account, and said he would stop communicating with tenants “if I see one more negative thing about me.” “You continue to bash me when I have done absolutely nothing wrong,” El Moussa said in the email. “I am not involved in the current situation at all, ZERO involvement. Who thought this would be a good idea? If I see one more negative thing about me I’m going to stop communicating. There’s no reason for me to try to help people that are trying to hurt me for no reason. Is this clear?” Subsequent emails show that the groups returned to organizing a Zoom meeting.
In another email shared with Motherboard, El Moussa sarcastically suggests a tenant buy the property themself. “Why don’t you buy it and let everyone stay for free forever,” El Moussa says in the email. In another email, El Moussa asks a tenant, “So what are you doing about the housing shortage?”El Moussa’s representatives say he didn’t know Aslanian’s history when he made his promo video. A website for El Moussa’s planned project, called NoHo 138, stresses that he and his development partners are not involved with Aslanian. “While we are aware that the previous owner of the property has been involved with several serious legal matters, the partners of NoHo 138 previously and currently do not have any involvement, connection or relationship with the seller, nor will they have any relationship in the future following the property transfer,” the website says.However, the architect for NoHo 138 is Sam Aslanian, Arthur Aslanian’s brother, according to building permits. “The architect is the brother of the seller, however, the partners of NoHo 138 do not know nor have a relationship with the seller,” a PR representative for the project told Motherboard in an email. They said that forcing tenants to vacate the residences was not a requisite of the deal. In an instagram post, El Moussa said, “Notices to the tenants were served by the current owner, not by me or by the partners at NoHo 138. I am not evicting anyone. We did not issue the Ellis Act relocation documents.” El Moussa said he and other partners reached out to tenants about “final move out agreements,” and that he intends to offer tenants “a great opportunity for them while helping to improve the neighborhood.” El Moussa did not respond directly to questions sent to his assistant. A representative from the Los Angeles Housing Department told Motherboard that a notice of intent to withdraw rental units from the market was filed on June 26, and that relocation assistance determinations are still in process. In an email to Motherboard, Eda Kalkay, a press person representing El Moussa and partners in the project said, “Filming of that video occurred prior to having knowledge about the current situation between the seller and the tenants. The partners intend to proceed only after a full agreement with all tenants has been reached. All provisions of the law will be followed.” Kalkay said, regarding communication with tenants, “Partners of NoHo 138 have attempted to get in touch with the remaining tenants to have an amicable discussion regarding final move out agreements.”In an email to Motherboard, Lydia Nicholson of Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action, (LACCLA), who is representing the Hartsook tenants, said, “The tenants are organized and know their rights and will not be intimidated by celebrity. LACCLA and the Hartsook Tenants Association intend to fight any evictions brought against the Hartsook Tenants.”