HGTV star and partners to redevelop Arthur Aslanian’s NoHo property

Tarek El Moussa and two development firms to buy site of alleged tenant abuse campaign

Arthur Aslanian, HGTV's Tarek El Moussa and WJK Development's Grant Keene
Arthur Aslanian, HGTV's Tarek El Moussa and WJK Development's Grant Keene (The Hartsook Tenant Assn., Getty, WJK Development)

Weeks before the developer and property manager Arthur Aslanian is scheduled to face trial over muder-for-hire charges, a team that includes the HGTV star Tarek El Moussa is moving ahead with plans to redevelop a North Hollywood property where tenants say Aslanian previously carried out an abusive campaign to force them out. 

The new development team includes El Moussa, through his company TEM Capital; Grant Keene of WJK Development; and Shahar Kalev of Pyramid Development. The trio is in escrow to buy the property from Aslanian’s entity for $9 million, Kalev said, and aims to build a seven-story, 138-unit apartment building that would include affordable units and utilize L.A.’s Transit Oriented Communities incentives. 

“There’s an existing lot with a couple teardown houses,” an enthusiastic El Moussa said recently on a local television news segment in which he promoted the project as a major commercial flip. “We’re scraping it and we’re building it from the ground up — super modern … rooftop pool, spa, the whole thing. I’m so excited.” 

Those “teardown houses,” however, are still home to a small group of well-organized, rent-stabilized tenants who say they were put through hell by Aslanian before he was apprehended. In March, months after a federal grand jury indicted Aslanian for allegedly contracting a hitman to avoid paying more than $3 million in debts, federal prosecutors served the developer and landlord with new charges for allegedly paying $2,000 to set fire to the building to push out the tenants. 

That same month, the tenants struck back with their own lawsuit against Aslanian, accusing the developer of orchestrating a broader terror campaign that included not only two intentional fires but breaking locks, intimidating construction work and egregious neglect that led to black mold, rodent infestations and sewage problems. Aslanian’s workers also moved into the building and threatened tenants they were trying to push out, the plaintiffs claim, even telling one woman that “bitches like you end up dead.” 

“We’re traumatized by our previous landlord,” one tenant, Clare Letmon, said earlier this year. 

While some tenants at the decades-old complex at 11043-11103 Hartsook Street have already accepted buyout offers, Letmon and her partner, as well as a few other residents — including one elderly woman who has lived there since 1982 — have decided to stay, both because they love the community they’ve created and because any other L.A. apartment would command far more than their stabilized rent. 

In an interview with TRD, Keene and Kalev both said they were aware of the existing tenants and emphasized that their team was committed to following the law and treating the residents respectfully. They would also be offering new buyout agreements, they said. 

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“We’re [going] to look out for their interests and do everything properly,” Keene said. “We’re trying to make it clear that we’re 180 degrees opposite. … We are not Arthur Aslanian.” 

Earlier this week Letmon was blindsided, however, to see new promotions about the project on social media and some news coverage in which the developers indicated construction could start within just a few months. (One news report was later amended.)  

“Somebody still seems to be purporting that it’s a shovel-ready project when there are people who still live there,” she said. “My first reaction to it was, ‘It’s like we don’t exist.’” 

In comments to TRD, Keene and Kalev said a more realistic construction start might be by next February. Even that might be optimistic: Under California’s Ellis Act, property owners who wish to demolish rental buildings must give tenants 120-day eviction notices, and for seniors the notice period is one year. To date the tenants have not been served Ellis Act papers. 

“Ellis [evictions] will always be a touchy subject,” added Kalev. “Sometimes you have to relocate tenants who are seniors. It’s not fun — otherwise the city would not agree to something that they really want, which is to develop [the property]. … We take it with the most respect.” 

The City of Los Angeles — which has been pushing for more density near public transit, including in booming NoHo — has already given its greenlight for the 138-unit development, and entered into a covenant agreement for the plans with Aslanian’s entity in March. The plans also include 14 units dedicated to extremely low income tenants, as well as a two-level underground parking garage. 

Through his attorney, Aslanian, who could face decades of prison time for the murder for hire charges, has denied all of the allegations against him, including the abuse claims brought by the tenants. The developer’s murder trial is scheduled to begin late this month. 

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