It all started last April, when I took to the Internet to find a place in LA…
The office for my new job is located in the heart of Hollywood, so naturally I look around that area for a spot. After searching for several weeks online, I decide to check out Artist Advantage Group Academy (AAGA). I respond to the ad on Roomster. They’re calling for “Actors, Musicians, Dancers, Directors” in an affordable, shared-living environment. But what I thought was a platform for a community of artists, eventually revealed itself to be a complete scam – run by passive-aggressive culture vultures. Geoffrey Lichtman, Travis Fear, Charissa McElroy, Jake Dinsmore, Geoff Briley (and former president / currently incarcerated Andre ‘Bauth’ Bautista) were all in on it from the jump.
This is the story of a hardworking artist pitted against the parasites that inhabit the cracks of Hollywood. The people I just named prey on disconnected, unsuspecting transplants to further their personal agendas over everything else. When they fuck up the scheme, they try to act their way out of the fallout – like it’s all practice for the big stage. They promise a shared, artistic, safe community. What we’ve gotten is lies, threats, power outages, mold, plumbing disasters, theft, violent attacks, continual harassment, a stabbing and a death – all from what is now known as Student Artist Housing (SAH).
I’m hoping that by putting this to light, we can put an end to this organization and I can move on. They are scavengers that prey on the poor, promising hope in exchange for an artist’s last few remaining dollars. Neither AAGA nor SAH have had the legal right operate. On another note, the aforementioned are seriously lacking in moral fiber of any kind. Do not work with them in any capacity. They’ll lie to your face, fabricate rumors about you behind your back, and pit your peers against you. These rats have been detrimental to my rapidly growing professional career in music and journalism. But as a man that has never backed down to injustice, I’m sharing this for perspective, in hopes that anyone considering a similar situation will know what’s real and what ain’t. These are the people give Hollywood a bad wrap. Student names have been changed for their privacy.
I responded and their agent Travis Fear who got back to me right away. He told me there was room free at one of the houses in Hollywood. After we checked it out, I saw that folks were sleeping in bunk beds, and I grew wary. Either way, he told me that a bed actually wasn’t available there, and that I should move into the new “Dean House” at 1826 Canyon Drive. The price was higher, but he said it had a pool and studio, so I was still interested enough to look into his $600 offer.
I checked it out and to my surprise he drunkenly offered me a $550 deal for the bed (that I’ve been sleeping in since). A couple days later, I went to pay him and of course he changed his mind. After talking with his business partner Geoff Lichtman, the two decided that I should pay $650 instead. Reluctantly, since I didn’t have any proof otherwise, I settled on $625 (then prorated for May). I’d already fully moved in and had nowhere else to go. That was a mistake I’d never forget. I signed the tuition agreement and asked Travis for my keys and a copy of the contract. He told me he’d get them for me.
One of the major draws to AAGA was the set of perks that they promised for students. The contract we signed was to pay tuition for schooling, while receiving a free stay at the house. AAGA insisted that they only recruited artists and did background checks on whoever moved in – to ensure the proper school environment. We were also told we’d receive headshots, professional acting classes and student discounts in the program.
The house is nice, or it appears to be at least. It was built in 1910 and has a front patio, plenty of big windows that line it, wood floors throughout, and a big bathroom upstairs that has a Jacuzzi in it. The pool area is spacious behind the house. The property was new to Travis and “owner” Geoff Lichtman, and they were promising all sorts of improvements – keyless entry, security cameras, new furniture, studio equipment, a grill and even a hot tub.
I noticed the garage behind the house right away and asked about a studio. Travis told me it was mine to use and that they were planning to soundproof it, install a greenscreen, stage and furniture, and lock it up for us so no one could steal the equipment. I agreed, thinking that there was just enough room to make it work, after everything was in place.
For the first few months I spent at the house, I worked at my office from 9-5pm Monday-Friday. I woke up, went to work, then either went out to cover an event or came back and worked on my craft at night. At times, I was up all night working on my new album. Eventually, AAGA noticed that I was by far the most committed musician on site and recruited me to run the studio at the Dean House. Charissa McElroy, who was in charge of AAGA’s finances at the time, had me record an artist that the management recruited.
I thought their new June payment system was a little sketch, so I kept to paying with cash or check. It turns out, their strategy was a common way that scammers use to get payment. I didn’t recognize it at the time, though.
I go and get my headshots taken at Andre’s house in early July. Donn Stewart (pictured in the greenscreen photo above), the “professionally trained photographer,” takes the pictures. He has no input for anyone that I see him shoot. I know what I wanted, so I go through and get a few portraits done.
People enjoy themselves for the most part during the Summer. The weather is beautiful and the students in the house are shooting short film projects around the property, recording music in the makeshift studio, going over scripts on the front patio, game planning, having great conversations and celebrating life. Some have arguments but overall we get along and create together. Aside from a few annoyances from management, the people at the house come together as artists.
But after AAGA founder and president Andre Bautista show up, everything changes. I had never met him until he started shooting for his indie project El Landlord. We get emails the day of, sometimes after they’ve already arrived, telling us students that the management will be filming at our house.
It’s exciting for a minute. I remember being hyped because someone was about to shoot a film with a big budget. Where I’m from, we don’t have that. But then I saw the reality of our situation. The production shows up virtually unannounced and films all day and all night, taking up the whole property. They play heavy favorites amongst students as well. Whoever buys into the AAGA brand gets paid. Jake Dinsmore – assistant director of the film and resident at the Dean House – gets promoted to house manager the day after filming starts in July. AAGA management Travis and Charissa are also casted for the film.
Tempers start to flare. One day during filming, a student named Justin is relaxing behind the house and Andre blows up and curses at him for smoking in the studio. The president of our school comes back a few days later, yells at Justin some more out behind our house, and threatens to kill him. Another student named Brian hears it happen. AAGA then has the audacity to email us and tell us to keep it down at night – because the neighbors are filing noise complaints. They were the ones getting the police called, yet put the blame on us – the students that have to deal with their bullshit. I now know they are not on our side.
I finish my internship with flying colors and receive a contributing position there, re-launch Basement Made, and start to do background work and other freelance projects for extra money. I’m excited to be seeing so much success right away in Hollywood.
July 31, 2015: Every member of AAGA receives a lengthy email regarding president and filmmaker Andre Bautista. According to “whistleblower,” the entire organization is a farce. The anonymous sender tells us that Andre Bautista runs his business to bring in unsuspecting actors and other artists with the promise of an artist community, and instead uses the money to fund his films and pay his staff.
The sender also claims that Andre roofies and molests many of his younger male students (late teens, twenties). They say that Andre befriends the younger men in AAGA, goes out with them, promises the world to the up-and-coming LA transplants, and then drugs them. The whistleblower also informs us that he or she is a part of a class action lawsuit against AAGA for a litany of reasons including fraud, negligence and harassment. Eric Castelblanco is on the case.
Up to this point, we’ve seen no improvements to the house since moving in. The students put a sofa, table and chairs in the garage and we use it as a studio for music, painting, acting and dance, but there have been no additions from management. We have no keys, copies of our contracts or the headshots we took. The classes consist of one get together a week in our garage with an actor friend of AAGA. Ten or less people attended the often-inconsistent classes.
Regardless of the conditions, I still debut my first fully-original record since moving to LA. I wrote, recorded, produced, co-engineered and performed the project. A couple of my guys helped out too. Listen.
Here’s a photo of the backyard and a couple of the studio as of August 18. There’s one set of plastic patio furniture from management for seating, a few green linens to make a greenscreen out of and some boards that they brought over 2 months prior to construct the last wall of the garage-studio. The rest – we found on the street or Craigslist. We ask for a grill and lounge chairs, so they get them off the street.
We receive this email and wait for a response. We got one almost immediately from Andre (above) to the sender of the message. He accuses the person of being a porn star that sucks dicks for a living and thus deserves no respect. Andre doesn’t deny what the whistleblower says though, and his response is very suspect.
People immediately start moving out after they see this communication. Obviously. I’ve paid through the last month and need an explanation for what happened. There’s no way I could invest more of my much needed time, money and name into a fraudulent business.
I and the remaining students ask for meetings, so that Andre can explain himself. He agrees, but then flakes. No one feels safe at that point. None of us can think about anything else. Everyone begins questioning the legality of their status with AAGA and what the consequences of staying further would be. If what this whistleblower says is true, we are living in an illegal and dangerous place.
Two of the house managers quit. Jake Dinsmore stays on. His girlfriend Charissa (who collects our checks) picks up one of the manager positions and moves into the house. Both of them immediately start hounding us for August’s rent. Andre, Geoff, Travis, Charissa and Jake won’t meet with all of us. Instead, they press to get us alone individually – usually later at night – insult and threaten us, tell us that the email is all a lie, and then ask for money.
A week later, Geoff finally sends us a response… further insisting that the email is slander and that we are completely safe at 1826 Canyon Drive.
It isn’t until a full two weeks after the incident that AAGA responds to us as an organization. They send a photo of a phone that we could only assume was Andre’s, next to another one, which we’re supposed to interpret as communication between teacher and student. But why did it take 2 weeks? The pictures look photoshopped too.
Andre finally comes to the house with one of the people he’s been accused of molesting. The student – the same one from the green screen picture above, who also lives with Andre and works on El Landlord – vouches for the Emmy-winning producer.
We aren’t convinced. We try to collaborate with the folks that are already pressing charges and they aren’t interested in taking us on. But if we can’t get the info from the source or prove that the president of our school molested those people, we figure we can at least find out more about the other parts of the message. I ask for the master lease of the house and wait for a response. We need to know the truth. For us and everyone to come after us into a similar shitshow.
I start to do some research with a few of the housemates downtown. We find that our property doesn’t have the correct Certificate of Occupancy. The one that we found is from a long time ago, and for a single family home.
Andre and Geoff had also told us many times that they are the landlords. However, a housemate named Lauren Benn finds the confidence to come forward with some new information at this time. She says that she attended the “PLUM (Plumbing, Land Use & Management) Committee” meeting on July 2 and witnessed a man there speaking about our house at 1826 Canyon Drive.
He was saying at the meeting that the house was disgusting and that he planned on demolishing the property for town homes in October 2016. We find out from the meeting that Geoff is actually subleasing our home from this man – Leeor Maciborski. Lauren assumed that Leeor knew all about the current situation at the Dean House. Also, Travis told her to keep what she heard quiet, so she did, afraid of what would happen – until this point.
With no permits or housing regulations, crazy management, and a landlord planning to destroy the house in the near future – AAGA has the perfect scheme to charge however much they want and do as they please with our tuition payments.
We don’t know if the Maciborski knows about what’s going on at 1826 Canyon or not, and he won’t answer our calls. The management continues to push for rent but nearly the entire house holds out for an explanation.
Then the power goes out for good. It had gone out a few times before August, but obviously not enough times for AAGA to justify fixing the problem. Here’s Justin, the man that the owner threatened, trying to fix the power on August 2. That’s Charissa behind him, watching him fidget with the faulty circuitry. Management later thanks the student for helping.
The house is a mess. I can’t get online at all, use the power to write, record, produce or create anything. I’m stuck. With a house packed with 30 people and no air conditioning, we’re also living in an oven with no electricity. The food in the fridges goes bad several times because of the power outages. You can’t cook. There are more and more plumbing issues. The maid stops coming. It stinks and bugs are everywhere. Here’s a pic from August 12. On top of that, the management starts disrupting my work. Whether it’s a film shoot, studio session or just a conversation – Jake is there to interrupt. He tells me that I need AAGA’s permission to create anything on the property and continues to come at me personally from this moment on. They think I’m leading some sort of mutiny. But after the power goes down, most people are convinced that we’re a part of a fucked up organization for one reason or another. We don’t want to be a part of their scam any longer and we’re ready to take it to court. I want to sue and bring everything to light, to get my investment and dignity back like the other houses are doing. I quickly find out how hard it is to organize people behind a court case with no money. This is largely how their operation works so well. Not only are they aiming at folks coming from out of town, but they’re also aiming at lower-income artists. These student transplants are people that neither expect to go to court and can’t afford to. Many feel like the best course of action is to move out, and so they do. Some even move back home across the country. Simon Romane is one of those people. He also takes my keyboard with him – the one morning that I happen to leave it in the studio. I thought, “It was behind our house in a walled off area, behind closed door, with another roommate’s iMac. It would be fine for one night.” Not exactly. I ask around to find Geoff Briley saying he’s the only one that was awake at the time. He claims he didn’t see anything yet he knows where Simon is staying, “at his girl’s place”. He tells me he’ll give me the address several times but never does, and blames me for not retrieving it. I ask Jake if management is gonna do anything about it and he laughs at me. I’m pissed but I figure I can get it back by myself. That’s until I look Simon up online and find out he’s been doing fuckboy shit like this all over LA for years. All it takes is a simple Google search to turn up countless pages of Ripoff Reports and rants about Romane stealing equipment, holding projects for ransom, and taking money and running. I saved him from drowning one night in our pool one night when he was drunk. He turns around and runs off with my instrument. I can’t believe this motherfucker, or that this would happen to me – one of the only people able to concentrate on my craft and create in such volatile situation. I make moves regardless but this shit doesn’t help. I find out later that Jake contacted Simon and retrieved my roommate’s iMac but not my keyboard. The house manager won’t tell me where Romane is living either. It is now that I realize AAGA ain’t even doing the basic background checks that they advertise, and they’re out to attack me specifically. I try to talk it out with Simon. He tells me he’ll deliver my keys many times but never does, and eventually ducks my calls altogether. August 31, 2015: Brown goop starts coming out of the walls of the house. As weird as shit is, it’s about to get worse. September 8, 2015: Andre Bautista stabs one of our fellow students. The student laughed at his teacher for claiming that he’d win 5 Oscar’s, so Bautista attacked him and fled to Mexico, leaving many questions unanswered. Most importantly, we live in one of his homes where he’d previously threatened to kill a student. Are we safe? No one can sleep. We’re locking our doors, checking our windows, watching around every corner. After further thought, the movie that he was shooting at our house, El Landlord, was about a landlord that drugged, raped and killed his tenants. Turns out, several people that were casted for the film quit shortly after filming started – due to it’s disturbing connection to reality. Geoff and Travis flip immediately after the news hits. At first, there’s no word at all. Later, Geoff sends an email claiming that he interviewed with the media, and opened up about Andre molesting him. Then he comes to the house, claiming that he and Travis have wanted Andre off the lease for a while. September 9, 2015: In a strange coincidence, I wind up premiering a record dedicated to struggling Midwestern kinfolk – the following day of the incident. A couple of my friends had just taken their lives and I was really going through it already. The music makes me feel alive, though. I keep fighting. September 10, 2015: The management removes all online presence for AAGA (first photos in article). CBS posts story. September 11, 2015: LA Times publishes story. September 12, 2015: MSNBC publishes story. September 23, 2015: Castelblanco files complaint against Geoffrey Lichtman, Andre Bauth and AAGA. Geoffrey Lichtman Student Artist Housing Sued by Castelblanco September 28, 2015: We ask for the master lease for the 4th time. Geoff never sends us the lease. He also lies about his cases with the other houses. October 1, 2015: Jake (red shirt) and Travis (blue shirt) continue break into my room, unannounced, to show to new students (left). Here I am working as they go through my roommates’ closet without their permission. October 12, 2015 (my birthday): LA Weekly story drops with Geoff Lichtman’s aforementioned interview. Later in the month, Medium picks the story up. Then “Crime Watch Daily” did an episode on the situation. Many other outlets cover the story, including ABC, CBS, FOX, USA Today, LA Times, Variety and Hollywood Reporter. Management assures that this alleviates the situation and that we now need to move forward. October 13, 2015: Charissa (tall white woman) assaults one of the students in the house (Dewey Bedford) with the glaring intention of getting him to retaliate. He doesn’t and is taken to the hospital. Charissa is arrested. She’s released the next day and the student hasn’t returned to 1826 since.
October 19, 2015: Geoff Lichtman lurks outside of our house in his grey Range Rover – a new habit he took up since the news hit. That and hanging around the house.
Whoever is left at the house feels uncomfortable at the least. We know that we’ve all been tricked into a scheme and are ready to stand up for ourselves. Slowly though – through continual threats and harassment from the management – more people continue to pay the original amount or move out. Many cut new deals with AAGA. Geoff and Travis call constantly, send endless pages of texts and constant emails. If they can’t get a hold of us, they come over to the house unannounced, break into a your room and berate you for money. Or they’ll wait all day at the house until they see you. I remember once, Geoff, Travis, Jake and their associate cornering me in my room while I was alone, and pressing me to pay my tuition payment. Then they move Charissa into the same room as my girlfriend, so that Charissa can harass her and get us to leave. Eventually, she moves out, as she doesn’t feel safe in the same room as Charissa. The management continues to get more aggressive with each passing day. They try to bribe me with upgrades to the studio, and ask me if installing the soundproofing and the green screen (things they originally promised) will get me to pay them more tuition. They use a name of one of their friends at a major label to get my attention, and even recruit someone in the house to offer me a soundtrack production deal. I’m not about to stand down to these vultures, just because they have money and opportunities. I refuse to be a part of their scheme and I tell them that they need to do right by the people that they’ve wronged. I tell them that basic but essential actions need to be made in order for the house to run without problems. They need a certificate of occupancy, proper accreditation to call themselves a school, less people living in the existing space, a fire, electric and plumbing inspection, and to lower the tuition that we pay to rent-stabilized or comparable levels, since we aren’t receiving anything but negligent and malicious behavior from the staff of the school. I also tell them to stop harassing us. I’ve invested my hard earned money into an illegal, fraudulent business and I need to be reimbursed. I’m owed damages for the immeasurable number that these people have done on me personally and to my career professionally, while I have pursued this justice. I tell management all of this and they eventually tell me to pay my original tuition amount or leave with my security deposit. November, 2015: The management has expelled most of the old house, so they re-launch under the new name Student Artist Housing (SAH), while the iron is hot. Geoff, Travis, Charissa and Jake tell us that AAGA is no more and that we either need to pay or move out. They cut the wi-fi and change the locks, and give a password and key to everyone except a few people. Surprise, I’m one of em. More of us are able negotiate a new deal but not myself or Lauren. Jake has handled the mail from the jump, and I told him not to touch my mail several times, but he continues walking right into my room to hand it to me anyway. My last 5 paychecks have gone missing. He gives me my personal mail but takes my money. I had to redirect my mail to another location, because it’s no longer safe to have mail delivered to my own house. They also remove many of us from the SAH email list and Facebook group and start telling the new residents to harass us who are standing up to them. They start to lock us out of house. Jake and Charissa come at me in the kitchen one day and try to convince me that one of my housemates is mentally insane. “Lauren is crazy,” Charissa says. “You shouldn’t talk to her.” I can only imagine what other bullshit they’re spreading around behind closed doors. Geoff and Travis apparently hire a cinematographer named Jose to shoot testimonials for SAH, and also a video that will show how “crazy” Lauren is. “I think you’re going to be big, that’s the only reason I’m leaving you alone,” I remember him saying to me. I continue working through the mess, since that’s all I’ve ever known to get me past vultures like these. Later on, Jose would move out with a couple other students, and he would literally go crazy – yelling and ranting that the aliens and federal government were out to get them, and they needed to flee to the nearest military base for protection. November 3, 2015: One of the last times I’m able to access the studio I set up.
Sometimes it’s the only answer #basementmade A photo posted by Beef (@cliftonbeef) on
November 8, 2015: Management begins renovating the 8-man bedroom that takes up the living room. In total, there are 30 plus people living out of 5 bedrooms and the living room. So there are actually 6 bedrooms in total. Management decides to move all the people from the living room to one half the size upstairs. Most don’t want to. All are forced to pack into a much smaller area or move out.
Our newly remodeled trap house living room A photo posted by Beef (@cliftonbeef) on
Aaron enters the picture around this time. A rich kid that puts his effort towards conning others and acting cool instead of contributing, I suppose he really isn’t much different from the SAH staff. He sells a lot of Xanax and Lean at the house, harvests bitcoins and steals identities. My roommate finds a stack of IDs in his things and a list of credit card numbers in his second phone. But this kid does so many drugs at the house, he jumps off the top of the stairs and dislocates his shoulder, passes out on the floor in the middle of the hallway, and brings tweaker hos through the 5-man bedroom on a daily basis. He brings another in-house student named Mitch out to rob his plugs, and they get away with it a few times. However, the last time, Mitch gets jumped and has his jaw broken. He then moves back home to the East Coast, while Aaron gets away without a scratch. I’m inclined to say Aaron set Mitch up, since he knew one of the guys that they stole from. The management originally said we had to put up with this kid’s shit because he paid 6 months in advance. Later on, management supposedly calls his mom and tells her that Aaron should be put in rehab. She supposedly then comes and picks him up the next week. I see him a few weeks later on Hollywood Boulevard with a bag full of drugs. We discover the notes from the Los Angeles Department of City Planning – stating plans for the property to be destroyed for townhomes. Los Angeles Department of City Planning 1826 Canyon Drive December 1, 2015: One year of no drinking for me. Ayyy. I’m hopeful but December comes around, I’m thinking about the holidays, and I get more wary that ever. They’re stealing my paychecks, withholding wi-fi, locking me out and trying to tarnish my name to every colleague that I bring over to the house. Jake and his big bitch Charissa are spreading rumors like it’s their job… because it is. Simon ran off with my keyboard and Aaron just left, and he was tweaking off something almost every night in my room. I have to keep going but I’m stressed. December 15, 2015: I release a spoken word video to draw attention to my situation in Hollywood. I also drop a music video for the title track off my upcoming album and the release date for its first EP. December 16, 2015: As I’m packing my things to go home for the holidays, I realize that someone stole my luggage right out of our downstairs storage area. Geoff Briley had asked about borrowing it before, so I told him sure, but I wanted a retainer until I got it back. He said that he wouldn’t do that, so I told him no. I can’t prove he stole it but it’s suspect at the very least. Similar to when my keyboard was stolen, Geoff offers up that he had asked about it before, but also insists that he didn’t take it. I know going home means leaving many of my things behind, and I don’t trust anyone after all that’s transpired. I put my possessions under lock and key and pray. December 17, 2015 – January 3, 2016: While I’m back home, I dive right back into the music. I kick it with the fam, meet up with several artists to talk about their come up, hit a show, a couple studios, record a few records and shoot a music video. It feels good to be home, and it’s hard to leave, but I know my journey goes out West, regardless of the adversity I’m currently facing. Here’s a snap from the video I shot on December 27.
“Old Thompson & Marb Reds” Video comin soon #doublemajor A photo posted by Beef (@cliftonbeef) on
January 4, 2016: I return to LA and the first thing I hear is that someone has died. Student Artist Housing brought in Douglas Harry Stingley right before the holidays. He was a quiet but friendly, straight edge older man who had just been miraculously cured of cancer. Doug was working with a social worker – who spoke to him daily and connected him with his Shamanistic roots. The man had a fresh lease on life after leaving a mission in Oregon and was looking to get back into substitute teaching. Unfortunately, Doug was left with Diabetes and a shoe on his foot from the fallout of the cancer, and had just recently lost a few of his toes.
SAH put him in the upstairs room, even though there was a bed open in my room. Also, they had no grip tape and a janky railing on the staircase at that time. There was only the slick and smooth slack over the wood. Lauren, myself and others expressed serious concern at the time, but to no avail. Tragically, Doug eventually slipped and fell down the stairs, cracking his skull wide open at the bottom. From there, he allegedly said a few incoherent things before falling into a coma – and dying shortly after at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. This was all directly due to the blatant ignorance of Student Artist Housing and their staff.
Again – major crisis – no word at all from the SAH or whatever the fuck they call it now. I come back from the holidays to a death directly due to negligent management. Apparently, Jake and Charissa were there. They claim that they called the police and fire department, although there are no records of that at all. These people glazed right over this man’s life like he never existed, and continue to hide that he ever existed, much less give us or new tenants any information on who he was, when the funeral was, or even his favorite flower or color.
The second thing is that they locked my studio while I was gone. They put a padlock on the room that I was put in charge of running and then gave the key to Jake. Of course, he refuses to let me use it at all now. They also lock the basement, where my luggage was recently stolen. They locked both rooms after I had property stolen from them. Again, no reimbursement or effort from SAH. I try to move past it and continue working.
SAH also adds grip tape and upgraded railing to staircase, some new furniture, keyless entry, and signs on the bathroom doors that call for a 20 minute limit. They try to establish their legitimacy to the new residents and push to convince them that I and the others are at fault – through their continual presence, private communications, harassment, and broadcasting of any new additions to the property. They think this is a popularity contest. They’re running a scam but they have many convinced that I’m the one scamming them. This is another reason for this piece – to clarify what has happened for folks that live here now.
January 15, 2016: I drop the first EP of many that fit together to compose the upcoming full project.
February 12, 2016. Geoff Briley (their newest sheep), along with Jake Dinsmore, pack up all of Lauren’s possessions, bag them up and hide her things in an undisclosed location while she is gone. Then they lock her out of the home.
I show up to the house on this day, not knowing what had happened. Geoff confronts me in the kitchen on my way to my room. He tells me that he isn’t concerned with the law and that I need to be out in two weeks. “I’m telling you,” he says. “[Lauren] is already out.” I email him about it and obviously he denies it ever happened. I recorded the conversation but it ain’t even worth uploading.
Lauren called the police immediately after it all happened. The cops eventually show up and order Jake to return all of Lauren’s things back to her room. Initially, Jake lied to the police, telling them that she wasn’t a resident at the house, and that he was just a tenant – not a manager. They handcuff him, assure him that he’s lucky that the woman isn’t pressing charges, and tell him to stop bothering us.
Even after everything that has happened, I have to come to terms with the fact that I’m going to be stuck here for a while. I’ve never had the money or connections to move at will, and I certainly don’t have them now in my first year in LA. I’ve had to make some crazy situations work in the past. However, those were buildings with permits, legitimate organizations, places that were safe to live in.
I’ve tried countless times to re-work my deal with SAH, like many other residents have. Some pay $600… some $500… some $300 – and the house managers all pay nothing. There is no standard, no merit. There is only the dollar amount that a person will pay to make it stop. Their moral codes are arbitrary. They have told me that I can stay as long as I don’t disrupt their business.
Sadly, I now know that my dream of working this out has come to a close and I need to be paid for my inconvenience. Not only am I still owed reimbursement for my tuition and damages, I’m also legally entitled to relocation fees. My conditions meet the examples that they provide in California law.
Regardless of everything that has happened at my home, I’ve become one of the nation’s top Hip Hop freelancers and a leading voice for Midwest culture. I’ve been promoted from my intern position to the writer position I’m at now, gained another critical rep position at a similar publication, released several records, music videos and an EP, worked on an NBC show for 20+ days, and published over 300 articles on arts and culture since moving to LA.
I love LA. I’ve been to many of California’s beautiful beaches, venues and restaurants, enjoy working out in Griffith Park, and I’ve found a smart and beautiful girlfriend. The house was simply never meant for the 30 residents here – crammed into 6 rooms on bunk beds. It’s chaotic and far from safe.
Later in the night, Geoff spreads more lies to the current students on a secret Facebook group. The house was already approved for demolition last year, and Lauren has never harassed anyone in the house, in fact, she does quite the opposite.
February 15, 2016: A few days later, owner Leeor Maciborski receives further renovation permissions for his upcoming property. We realize that they want us out before they have to fess up to all the shit they’ve put us through the past year.
February 16, 2016 (today): Geoff Briley comes at me again to tell me that he “doesn’t understand [me]” or my motivations, and that “no one respects [me]”. He tells me that I’ve “never helped anyone in [my] life”, and that “none of my family or friends love [me]”.
Geoff is a habitual liar and often harasses other up-and-coming artists in the house – like he enjoys it even if he doesn’t get paid to do it. He makes a point to harrass any female that crosses his line of sight, and brings drugs into our house that claims a no drug policy in the tuition agreement (contract for new SAH members). Geoff and Student Artist Housing are not good business. That’s a no go. I didn’t think I’d publish this for all to see but I now know that could be the only way to justice.
February 18, 2016: Jake locks Lauren out of house, something they’ve started doing more often since the aforementioned Facebook post.
As February comes to a close, I drop the second EP off of my album. I continue to do my thing and collaborate with my people. I’m getting more and more buzz the longer I’m out here. I miss home but music brings me back at times.
March 3, 2016: Apparently, the city inspector came to the house today and approved of everything going on. SAH sends out the following email to everyone except Lauren and myself. I have a sneaky suspicion that Leeor Maciborski has strong, corrupt ties to the city, as a board member on Empower LA, he has his hands in PLUM and HUBC. We re-file shorty after receiving this information but don’t keep our hopes to high on that.
March 4, 2016: A painter arrives at the house to cover up stained kitchen ceiling and mold coming out of walls.
March 5, 2016: Geoff and Travis arrive unannounced at 5pm and meet in the studio. Geoff Briley meets them in the studio. They talk for an hour, leave and lock the room behind them.
March 8, 2016 I go outside to smoke. Jake locks me out of the house at 1:30am. I get in through the pool door to my room. We still don’t have keys.
March 16, 2016: John Kwak moves from upstairs down to my room on the main floor, after Geoff Briley attacks him in his sleep. Geoff came at John in the middle of the night, punching him twice in the stomach and then choking him for about 15 seconds – all before another roommate had to pull the house manager off of the unsuspecting young adult. SAH management first tells John that he has 2 weeks to leave, then they change their mind and tell him that he could stay if he “keeps his head down”. John files an incident report.
March 21, 2016: I receive a letter from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department (HCIDLA), RSO Division – Investigation & Enforcement, formerly known as Los Angeles Housing Department (LAHD). “This property is subject to Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO) because it is being rented as a multi-dwelling unit,” it says. “Under the Los Angeles Municipal Code, RSO Section 151.05, landlords may not demand or accept rent without first paying annual registration fees for their rental units and obtaining a valid rental unit registration certificate from the Los Angeles Housing Department.”
March 24, 2016: Lauren speaks further with RSO, and finds out that the inspector they sent was in fact an inside job. We have to speak directly to the one in charge of the Hollywood division to find this out. Lauren also receives an unlawful retainer from Student Artist Housing.
On the same day, I premiere the most comprehensive article ever written on the Wisconsin Hip Hop scene to a major industry platform. I’m pumped because it’s only been a year and I’m changing the landscape for my state’s music and culture. The piece receives thousands of shares in it’s first day. It continues to do well and now sits at the top of Google.
March 25, 2016: Lauren meets with a tenant rights lawfirm again today. We’ve met with several lawyers over the past months, looking for someone that could take on the case with a budget that we can afford. Hopefully this one works out.
I release another music video this afternoon – one that I wrote, produced, directed, edited and starred in.
April 16, 2016: I drop another EP off the full project, and an accompanying music video.
May 2016: We continue researching and find codes for many of the infractions. We get word back from Los Angeles Building & Safety that the house is operating as an illegal “multiple dwelling” unit. They are not entitled to collect rent until they handle it, so all money should legally be refunded to past tenants solely due to this letter.
Lauren continues to be pushed and shoved around the house, literally, by Charissa and other brainwashed housemates. Management dumps her coffee and throws her food out if they deem it’s been left out too long. They pound on the bathroom door every time they see her or I walk in. Some students film projects around the house, others are told that they can’t. SAH plays favorites just like AAGA did, just under a new name.
June 3, 2016: The city posts a public hearing notice on our front gate regarding the property demolition. SAH has been caught in yet another lie. Now we all need to be relocated. The property is listed to Leeor Maciborski on the papers for a single family home. Now everyone will know the truth. It says, “The project includes the demolition of an existing single-family dwelling, and the construction, use and maintenance of a Small Lot Subdivision containg five (3), three-story single-family dwellings with attatched two-car garages…”
June 5, 2016: Jake relentlessly harasses Lauren on the front porch. She calls the police. The management is pumping the harassment up and I can tell the energy around the house has changed. People look at me aggressively, people that I had positive relationships with before. I can be almost sure that SAH is spreading rumors again too.
June 8, 2016: Lauren’s case continues, and is relocated to Long Beach.
June 9, 2016: Department of Health visits house. Lady walks around and writes a few things down and does not go into the rooms of the house.
July 2016: Jake continues breaking into my room without permission, showing my bed and property to potential new tenants of the illegal hotel. He’s a little boy trapped a young man’s body, calling me names like “scumbag,” “piece of shit,” “dirtball” and “nigger lover”. Geoff denies that he is still involved with SAH, but soon after, he continues to show the house to new interested parties.
Jake continues to break into our room unannounced to give tours to new guests. It takes everything I have to keep myself from snatching the life outta this kid.
Doesn’t matter if they’re 18 or 50, Jake will try to scam them into thinking this is the right situation for them.
August 2016: Travis comes over, unannounced, with pizza for the house while I’m gone. The next day Lauren goes to court for her jury trial. She cuts a deal with Geoff, and says that she agreed to move out and keep silent. Lauren refuses to share the details of what happened, and says that she went through this process “all alone.” She “warns” me that “[I’m] next,” leading me to believe that she’s been bought out and we are no longer friends nor associates in this matter. Charissa and Jake celebrate with the new members of the house out back with champagne and other food that night. Charissa said, “she hadn’t payed rent for like a year” and “we had to pay a million dollars to take her to court but she’s out.”
September-October 2016: After Lauren moves out, everyone in the house amplifies their hate towards me. Doesn’t matter if it’s about work, life, art – whatever – they all attack me whenever they can, lock me out, and bother me when I’m working. Interestingly, Charissa, Jake and Geoff all move out during this time, but they elect a new house manager to do their work. He is better than their previous representation, but he is still a pawn in a superficial, exploitative organization. Eventually, I find a much better place to live and move out. Thank God I survived. I pray for all of their future victims…
December 26, 2016: Geoff Lichtman is still posting the Figueroa House to Roomster. He’s lowered the price to $475 now, for obvious reasons, but I still don’t recommend living in this place unless it’s only for a very brief period of time (and your last resort).
I eventually moved out the week of October 12th. However, if you have lived at one of Geoff and Travis’ properties before, have any tips for our case, or a connection to a pro-bono or low-cost lawyer in the LA area – leave a comment below or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message with your name, number and reason for calling at 608-571-5711. The same goes for all of Clifton’s cases. Duh.