Cross House squatters challenge college’s housing plans

Exterior view of Occidental’s former Cross House in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Leo Blain/The Occidental

At the end of August 2021, an Occidental employee notified the college that they had seen people inside a vacant college-owned property formerly known as Cross House on the corner of Paulhan Avenue and N Avenue 46, according to Jim Tranquada, the college’s director of communications and community relations. After the college was notified, Tranquada said the college contacted the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to help Campus Security investigate the property Aug. 30.

“We don’t know how they gained access, because they didn’t get keys from the college, and the woman that we spoke to said she had signed a lease with an individual unknown to the college and refused to leave,” Tranquada said. “We’ve gone to court to follow the required legal procedures to enforce the college’s rights in this situation.”

According to Tranquada, the duplex — composed of a bottom house, top house and back house that all share a communal outdoor area — has been empty since Spring 2021. The previous tenants, cross country student athletes at Occidental, moved out May 2021, according to Amelia Muscott (senior), who lived there last year. Tranquada said the college did not move students back into Cross House because Residential Education & Housing Services (REHS) is planning to renovate the duplex into student housing.

“It’s unfortunate. Our hope is to get this back online to serve as student housing,” Tranquada said. “I’ve worked for the college for 21 years. This is the first time I’ve remembered an incident like this occurring.”

Muscott said the college had purchased the duplex from her old landlord, but had allowed her and her roommates to live out their lease until Spring 2021 because they had signed it before the college purchased the property July 27, 2020.

“We knew when we signed the original lease that it would be handed over,” Muscott said. “The landlord and his partner were moving, so they sold the property.”

The front door of Occidental’s former Cross House displays Halloween decorations in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Leo Blain/The Occidental

Addie Durant (senior) said she was reading on her porch a few houses down on Paulhan Avenue Aug. 30 when she saw Campus Safety approach the house. According to Durant, Campus Safety was joined by LAPD police officers after a couple of hours, and Durant said she saw them speaking to a person inside.

“Then they came by the back door and knocked, and no one answered for a while, and then someone poked their head out and spoke to them for a bit but never came out the door,” Durant said.

Muscott and Durant have seen various people park their cars on the property, including a blue Chevy frequently parked on Paulhan Avenue. Though the house has been empty since May, Muscott, who frequently visits Baseball House across the street from Cross House, said she saw people she thought were students at Occidental in the bottom house of the property.

“I saw a woman washing a blue sports car, an older middle-aged woman, in between the cross house and backhouse,” Muscott said. “I’d thought I’d seen students in the kitchen and students going in and out, so I thought it was strange that this woman was there.”

According to Nora Kahn, Occidental’s general counsel, landlords in LA are not allowed to remove the locks or evict residents without going through proper legal procedures. This lawsuit, also called a forcible detainer action, is a civil procedure that begins the eviction process of squatters living unlawfully on a piece of property that they do not own or rent.

After the trial is over, the college could serve an eviction notice which would forcibly remove the people living on the property if they do not comply with the eviction order. Tranquada said the case to evict the tenants of N Avenue 46 is currently in LA County Superior Court, though the process might be delayed due to staffing shortages in courts across California.

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