This investigation is published on the 29th anniversary of Charles Bukowski’s death.
In 2007, while writing our tour of Bukowski’s Los Angeles, we spotted a Craigslist ad that listed the writer’s longtime home in the 1920s bungalow court at 5124 De Longpre Avenue, East Hollywood as a teardown.
The unhinged preservation campaign that followed was our awakening into how we could use storytelling, passion and public policy to help save the places we love and protect the most endangered Los Angeles treasure of them all: naturally occurring affordable housing, the older RSO rental stock that is vanishing to Ellis Act evictions, illegal demolitions, perpetual vacancy, squatter fires, unethical reporting and illegal home shares.
So it felt pretty good to know that we had helped to preserve this modest bungalow court where Bukowski made the unlikely transition from a middle-aged postal worker to a world renowned author, keeping nine rent controlled cottage units available for Angelenos to live and dream in.
Or are they? Although it is illegal to list any rent controlled property in the city of Los Angeles on any home sharing website, we recently discovered that somebody calling themselves “Marie” blatantly advertises ➹ 2 BR House in East Hollywood ➹ Parking ➹ Wifi: – Detached Bukowski Court bungalow in small community for $146/night on Airbnb.
The listing deceptively uses a map of neighboring Glendale, then slips a map showing the real location between images of the furnished unit, with its collection of freshman lit class paperbacks, Keurig machine, framed Bukowski quote and a giant, incongruous framed photo of Ernest Hemingway (what, Buk was too ugly?)
In About this space, the “Glendale” post clarifies NOTE: This listing is in EAST HOLLYWOOD, LA. There are 45 reviews for the illegal listing, and 684 reviews spread across “Marie’s” 21 property listings, which include at least one other rent controlled L.A. apartment falsely listed in Glendale; a December 2022 review explains that it’s actually located above Kismet in Los Feliz. We assume that the “Cool Silverlake Apartment next to Sunset Blvd” is also rent controlled, since it too is fraudulently listed as being in Glendale.
Airbnb knows this is illegal. “Marie” knows. So do the neighbors, who were subjected to a stream of travelers through the height of the pandemic. The property owners know. City Council, which in 2019 unanimously backed creation of an ordinance to regulate home sharing, knows. The City Planning department, which receives data directly from Airbnb and policy direction from the Mayor and City Council, and does almost nothing to enforce violations knows, too.
“We crafted a [home sharing] ordinance that allows good operators to thrive and weeds out those who are cited as nuisances to their neighbors.” – confessed racketeer Jose Huizar, May 2018
The name of the supposed Airbnb host “Marie” is in quotes throughout this story, because she’s a convenient fiction, meant to give the false impression that when you book a night or a week in Bukowski Court you’re dealing with a human being.
But several different reviews of the Bukowski Court rental mention the name of a management company: Pillow & Coffee. So we started digging. And while their illegal listing intentionally obscures the city in which Bukowski Court is located, Pillow & Coffee co-owner Rebecca Slivka is a publicity hound who regularly shares intimate details of her business practices with reporters, podcasters and clients of their rebranded Pillow & Coffee home share management agency.
Business Insider (July 2021): Erica Beers and Rebecca Slivka booked $3.8 million in a year running a vacation-rental business in LA. They share the tricks for making millions on sites like Airbnb and Vrbo this summer.
“Beers and Slivka knew their customers didn’t need excessive space… so they sought studios and one-bedroom homes in trendy LA neighborhoods. [Working with eight owners] Pillow & Coffee has properties in Hollywood, Silver Lake, West Hollywood, and downtown LA.”
Rebecca Slivka appears to be the brains as well as the voice of the operation. We tracked her career arc through podcast interviews. A Cleveland native, she came to Los Angeles around 2002 to attend college: “I ended up going to school at USC… and that’s where I got my bachelor’s in public policy planning and development and then I got my master’s in urban planning with an emphasis on social and Community Development.” (My Cash Flow Academy, February 2019)
It’s notable that this is the same graduate program cohort that produced confessed racketeer Jose Huizar’s planning deputy Shawn Kuk, a named figure in the Federal indictments whose testimony in Huizar’s co-conspirator Raymond Chan’s trial has been delayed by attorney illness. While Kuk was using his policy chops to grease the wheels for land use abuses inside City Hall, Slivka has profited handsomely from the lawless environment outside.
While still at USC, Slivka says she interned with a student housing company, rising to the role of partner. Her name and initials can be still be found in negative reviews from Stuho Student Housing tenants, including in Kelly G’s accusation of rent gouging bait and switch tactics and Trojan M’s categorization of her as “an immoral person.”
In search of a business model that could provide more money for less effort, Slivka and her partner Erica Beers began renting empty apartments in their neighborhood, furnishing them from yard sales and listing them on home sharing websites. They quickly amassed a portfolio of dozens of master leased Los Angeles apartments.
Slivka explains, “So for us, in the master lease model, our goal is to make it at least $800 to a thousand dollars per month per unit in profit. Then it’s worth it for us, because we have a team that we need to support.” (Takeaways from STR Legends Live, July 2019)
That team includes locals, to furnish and decorate the vacant apartments, photograph them for online listing and deal with plumbing and linen disasters. But mostly, the work is done remotely. “We actually have virtual assistants who are in the Philippines.” (Get Paid For Your Pad, September 2020)
Asked about the impact of home sharing regulations, Slivka shows she is in denial about the effect of removing as many as 150 rental units against the backdrop of L.A.’s deadly homelessness crisis: “I think the cities are doing a lot of the regulations because they don’t understand it. They’re seeing the 0.01% that are having parties and like pulling apart neighborhoods things like that… in reality… we’ve served over 10,000 guests… of those people, we probably had three bad apples, maybe four… So I don’t think the sharing economy is going anywhere at all and I think cities will eventually adapt to that as well.” (My Cash Flow Academy, February 2019)
Having made their fortune from taking rent controlled Los Angeles apartments off the market—an ordinance the urban planning master’s graduate pretends not to understand—the couple no longer live here. They purchased the adults only boutique retreat Hicksville Trailer Palace (of Depp-Heard trial infamy) and spend their time in Joshua Tree and traveling.
Back in East Hollywood, “Marie” (or whatever virtual assistant is taking calls today) is still listing the rent controlled back house behind Charles Bukowski’s bungalow for nightly bookings.
It would be easy to explain this all away as internet commerce being too nimble and complex for the stodgy city to regulate. But that’s just not true. It only took us about half an hour of skimming reviews and doing web searches to discover the horrifying extent of Pillow & Coffee’s rental arbitrage empire. And this was without the benefit of Airbnb’s data stream or the complaints of neighbors. The city has everything it needs to shut illegal home sharing down yesterday. It doesn’t want to. As we learned from the secret transcript of City Councilmembers plotting to corruptly draft the redistricting map, it is quasi-official policy to disenfranchise renters.
But night is falling on Los Angeles, and we want to share this investigation with you in honor of Charles Bukowski, who died on this date. So forgive us if we don’t go down the nutty rabbit hole of Erica Beers’ identity being stolen by celebutante con artist Danielle Miller, or poke through any more of “Marie’s” listings looking for rent control violations. But if you’re so inspired, please share your discoveries in the comments below.
Charles Bukowski, who was too ugly for a Pillow & Coffee interior decorator to hang on the wall, wrote about poor, beautiful, broken, hopeful Angelenos. Some of them drank all day, others labored in lousy jobs with sadistic supervisors. Even in poverty, they had their dignity and a roof over their heads. He found grace and humor in their experiences, but it would be hard to write anything funny about the chaos, lawlessness and malignant incompetence of the city’s response to illegal home sharing.
If reading this makes you sick, tell City Attorney Hydee Feldstein Soto that you want her office to enforce the existing home sharing ordinance. Tell Controller Kenneth Mejia that you want his office to audit the poor performance of City Planning’s home share enforcement. What the hell, tell the FBI while you’re at it!
We all of us need to come together and Save Bukowski Court… again!
P.S. Confidential to Rebecca Slivka: you’re obviously an intelligent person, with a talent for finding opportunity at the front of a wave. The path you’ve taken is enormously harmful to the creative communities in which you do business, and which you use as marketing fodder. We’d like to see you use your knowledge and skill for good rather than evil, to try to reverse this harm and protect vulnerable people. We hope you’ll think about it. Also, stop listing RSO units by the night!
Update March 13, 2023: Let’s have a scavenger hunt, kids! Somewhere in Los Angeles is a bungalow court located on a hill, looking out onto the mountains.
It has arched doors, a street address of 529 or 329, appears to have been built in the 1920s or 1930s, and on January 26, 2019 its conversion to short term use was featured in a video post on a public Facebook group called Airbnb Girls – The journey of running a short term rental business. The group is administered by Erica Beers and Rebecca Slivka of Pillow & Coffee, and Slivka authored the post.
Do you recognize this pretty bungalow court or the buildings across the street? If so, please comment on this post or email us.
If this project is in the city of Los Angeles, as Slivka states, then the video shows expensive construction work being done to convert what is almost certainly a rent controlled multi-family property, just six months before the new home sharing ordinance that bans listing RSOs went into effect. Are these RSO units and are they being listed by the night now?
The gutting of the historic bungalow court to install generic fixtures that appeal to transient visitors doesn’t just take apartments off the market. It also hurts the environment by generating toxic dust and trips to the landfill, and destroys the character that makes older buildings so appealing.
And there are public safety concerns raised by rushed construction work. We don’t yet know the bungalow court address to look up its permit history, but we note that there are no recent building permits for the apparently brand new kitchen and bathroom visible in photographs of the Bukowski Court cottage listed on Airbnb. This type of work, and that seen in the Airbnb Girls video, requires permits from the city.
Update (a little later on) March 13, 2023: Cheers to preservation pal Rio Dylan Hernandez, who was so incensed by the bungalow court gutting video that despite being on deadline, she put on her detective’s hat, and quickly identified the property as 329-333 N. Alexandria Avenue, an eight unit rent controlled complex listed on Survey LA as an historic resource. It was sold to Rebecca Slivka and Erica Beers in November 2018 for $1.6 Million. Eight months earlier, it had changed hands for $1.2 Million.
The offering memorandum circulated by Iconic Investments touted the upside: “The property will be delivered with four vacant units and possibly a fifth unit [out of eight] that is currently under eviction. That is a rare opportunity, especially in light of a potential Costa-Hawkins repeal that could permit vacancy control. Having the majority of the units vacant allows new ownership to immediately renovate, remodel and reposition the property to capture a higher-income tenant base and top-of-market rents.”
The embedded rental data hints at a harrowing story. We don’t know what happened to the four or five households displaced before the sale, or those tenants who remained, except that there’s nothing as nice that they could find to rent in a Los Angeles that has abandoned all pretense of enforcing tenant protections and the home share ordinance.
Rio shares our mortification that the creative, offbeat city where we grew up has been rendered inaccessible to homegrown artists, seniors and the working poor, because the cheap tiny apartments have been yanked off the market and repurposed for wealthy transients. Where some see profit and convenience, we see a devil’s bargain: move away from everything you know and love while you still can, or risk getting evicted into homelessness.
The wee Alexandria bungalows were designed by architects Allen & Hillier for Mrs. Carrie Schulze Contreras, not just as income property, but as a home. The Norwegian born Carrie managed apartments, while her younger husband Don J. sold New Mexico real estate for Old Spanish Grants, Inc. When she died in 1939, the obituary listed their address as 331 N. Alexandria.
Carrie and Don Contreras’ unit was the 400 sq. foot studio that was renting for $722.03 when the Airbnb Girls bought the bungalows, gutted and remodeled them, and made them available “for monthly or annual leases,” which appears to be legal, on Bulgarian and Indian Airbnb and a dedicated website for $2450/month. The remodeling, too, was permitted. But it’s not okay: eight tiny affordable apartments are no longer available for Angelenos to call home, and a community of tenants has been scattered who knows where.
Update May 30, 2023: At 1:33 this morning, a semi-literate email was sent through our website contact form, allegedly on behalf of Pillow and Coffee’s Rebecca Slivka, by New York and “virtual” attorney J. Benjamin “Ben” Lambert of Lambert Worldwide / 360 Law Group.
We find it ironic that J. Benjamin Lambert would choose to represent housing disruptor Pillow and Coffee, since in a lengthy personal interview with Blue Ocean Global Technology, he describes being housing insecure in an expensive, liberal city where he wished to live because, as an openly gay man in an interracial relationship, he didn’t fit in back home. It is for people like him that we write posts like this one. Soon after the experience he shared, Airbnb’s negative impact on housing affordability would be recognized as a national crisis. It has only gotten worse.
The message we received is memorialized below:
From: Ben Lambert, email@example.com. Subject: Courtesy Request
To Whom It May Concern,
We are reaching out on behalf of Rebecca Slivka in connection with an article published on your website at the following URL: https://esotouric.com/2023/03/09/pillowandcoffee/
While we support free speech rights we do have some concerns about the content contained at this URL. Specifically, additional facts and/or context, of which you may be unaware, may would change the nature of the story or result in potential inaccuracies. Furthermore, there are ongoing negative impacts as a result of the above URL and the ease with which it is discoverable via simple internet search engines.
We are happy to provide details related to the above. However, due to the sensitive nature of some information we are only able to do so if you agree to keep any information disclosed strictly off the record.
Please be advised that this letter does not constitute a notice of intent to take legal action. Though the undersigned is an attorney, we have been engaged as negotiators and facilitators.
It is no secret that the Internet and technology have made it so that even the most mundane of items live forever. This obviously can have lasting impacts on the subjects of such articles. Therefore, we would like to request that the article in question be removed from your website. Alternatively, we are open to compromise arrangement such as de-indexing the article or, perhaps, removing our Rebecca Slivka name from the article.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this request. Please feel free to contact us at any time regarding this matter. Email is our preferred method of communication. Please respond to the email chain sent to you or firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.
A friend in the courts tells us that this communication may skate perilously close to practicing law in California without a license. In May 2020, it was announced that Lambert was heading the newly launched U.S. subsidiary of the 360 Law Group, a UK based “virtual law business that uniquely combines regulated and unregulated legal practices… The group explicitly offers a regulated law firm, an alternative business structure called 360 Law Services, to handle reserved legal work, and an unregulated firm, 360 Business & Private Client Law, for everything else.” Lambert was quoted in the press release as saying there is “a real need for this type of service where [businesses] can receive high quality legal advice, but with significant cost savings.” You get what you pay for!
In recent years, both “Ben” and “John” Lambert of Lambert Worldwide have sent nearly identical emails to others who publish unsavory facts about their clients online, and at least five recipients have also chosen to publish these bizarre communications. See examples from August 2019 (client: litigious biomedical material science researcher May Griffith / recipient: For Better Science), September 2019 (client: pro-suicide spiritual guru Mary Teal Bosworth AKA Teal Swan / recipient: newagefraud.org), November 2019 (client: confessed securities fraudster and hair salon owner Abell Oujaddou / recipient: Inner City Press), November 2021 (client: allegedly anti-Semitic former Deputy District Attorney and then candidate for the Los Angeles Superior Court Eduard R. Abele, Recipient: Metropolitan News-Enterprise), July 2022 (client: fired Placer County Chief Executive Officer Todd Leopold / recipient: The Sacramento Bee) and March 2023 (client: disgraced country music publicist Kirt Webster / recipient: Saving Country Music).
Let us know in the comments if you got one of these goofy emails too!
Update October 19, 2023: A related story is featured in our newsletter (Los Angeles landlord sues Knock LA reporter for exposing illegal Airbnb listings in rent controlled buildings).