Hongs Plead With Public to Save Irv’s Burgers

irv's burgers, santa monica boulevard restaurant

Irv’s Burgers, the 63-year-old West Hollywood hamburger stand sitting at the northeast corner of Santa Monica and Sweetzer, is asking for public support on its website as it faces an eviction notice from its owner and struggles to stay open.

The Hongs, a Korean-American family who invested their life’s savings in the business, are asking supporters to send an email to West Hollywood officials to stop their eviction by landlord Standard Oil Investment Management, which needs to bring the Irv’s site up to code in order to construct its neighboring cafe concept “Beach Nation.”

According to the Irv’s site:

The loss of Irv’s in West Hollywood would be another blow to our fragile Los Angeles culture. Destruction of this landmark would erase:
1) Another integral link to the Route 66 heritage
2) A classic post-World War II roadside stand
3) A genuine neighborhood eatery
4) The livelihood and future of a hardworking family

Irv’s owner Sonia Hong, who works with her brother and mother behind the counter, and is known for penning personal notes on nearly ever paper plate she serves, has made the stand a neighborhood favorite for more than a decade.

Recently, West Hollywood Councilmember Jeff Prang, who has been a long-time supporter of Irv’s Burgers, said that the owner was using “constructive eviction” to remove the Hongs. According to Prang, the Hongs had been told Steven Bohbot, vice president at Standard Oil Investment Management, that they would need to bring the roof and outdoor patio up to code if they wanted to stay.

“You’re not evicted, but I’m going to double your rent and make you pay for the roof and all these other things. It’s a historic business and it really should be the building owner’s responsibility,” Prang said.

When Beach Nation was approved, the city also required Standard Oil to bring the Irv’s site up to code because it is a single piece of property.

According to Prang, Bohbot, the “point person” in talks with the Hongs, has not returned calls from the city.

Hong has also said her landlord has attempted to more than double her rent to $10,000 and put her on a month-to-month lease, which makes the eviction possible.

  1. To respond to “Me” regarding my comments about Health Code violations, I said over the years and did not specifically cite the most recent inspection. Clearly the place is a wreck and I would hesitate eating anything that comes out of that place.
    As for the Hongs and Standard Oil, it’s simply, the Hong family’s lease is up and the landlord wants a higher rent. The Hong’s don’t want to pay and that is the real issue. There is no Rent Stabilization for commercial tenants and it would be invasive more so illegal for the city or any governmental agency to intervene in this type of landlord-tenant issue. The landlord will need to invest mucho bucks to bring the property to code and since the lease expired, it is his right to see if the market will bare the additional rent. In the interim, the “evil” landlord will lose rent, invest substantial money in the property and additionally has offered the Hongs $50,000. which they refused. It is sad for the Hong family, but they appear to have an unfair sense of entitlement and I’m not sure where the real greed lies in this burger tale.

  2. Just a thought on this issue of codes and who is responsible – Irv’s sits right across from City Hall – how is it possible that code violations were overlooked? As far as I know – the property owners have the duty to maintain the property in a code compliant manner. Perhaps the Hongs (whom I do not know nor have I ever eaten at Irv’s) were fearful of exactly what is happening right now. Tenants of every stripe often fear to provoke a landlord to keep the status quo or to avoid confrontation. And yet there are remedies in the city and in the law that can and do protect tenants from nasty owners – particularly ones with business names like Standard Oil. We know they are NOT Standard Oil – but the name is a tell on their aspirations. And while I am certain that business codes are not the same as residential codes,I would hypothesize a theory. Perhaps the Hong’s asked the landlord for needed maintenance on the building – and it could have been once or repeatedly – and were told not to make waves or they would face consequences- and is it possible they simply didn’t make waves? And didn’t know that consequences slice both ways? For example (hypothetically) if a landlord knowingly allows a business tenant to operate a business in a non-compliant building wouldn’t the landlord assume any liabilty that might result as a consequence of neglect?

    I think Marco’s observations are excellent but as a landlord – code compliance is the cost of doing business. I am sorry that this family has no legal counsel – because up against a determined property owner – it can hit the fan fast and furiously and very unfairly. The Hongs should know that you can go up against a landlord or a smug property owner and prevail. It is hard work, but it is possible. My advice would be to consult the California Real Estate Laws. Fascinating little bitty precedents do exist and can be very helpful. And they should look for a pro bono lawyer who loves press.

    I am troubled by the County violations – but this may be an issue for the county to look at more closely – if they have an A perhaps the violations have been corrected.

  3. THIS Los Angeles is no longer MY Los Angeles…So many fave places are being dozed over and it sickens me to the core…Big Business vs Family Owned/operated business….Id rather my tax dollars stay LOCAL and my money in the pockets of FAMILIES who make an honest living here. Remember that next time the urge to eat at a corporate run eatery…

  4. I don’t think we are getting all of the accurate details in this “he said, she said” tale. The landlord is certainly responsible for the structural integrity of the property. Understandably, if the landlord is forced to comply with codes and invest in repair and maintenance, then he or she should be entitled to ask for whatever rent they want, regardless of fairness and especially since the current tenant’s lease has expired.

    Conversely, does it occurred to anyone that Irv’s has possibly been profitable for the Hong family for over a decade and that perhaps they (as tenants) could have invested some of their own money to clean the place up? The Hong’s are a lovely family, but there is a chance that their argument is a bit one-sided.

    Irv’s is a cultural landmark and I would love to see it remain and become a cleaner, safer and better maintained establishment. Upon investigation, you will find that Irv’s has received numerous Board of Health violations over the years.

  5. If they invested their life savings how come they don’t have a lease? If they have an oral tenancy all Standard had to do is serve them a notice to terminate their tenancy and if they don’t leave they can evict them. It seems if Standard wanted them gone they could have already done that. And why is the City getting involved in what commercial landlords and tenants agree to in lease?. Maybe a better business owner should take over the spot and repair the building and rehabilitate it. An Irv’s Burger might cost 50 cents more but should not we as community members pay more for the privilege of eating a first class burger in a well-maintained historic building instead of a shack? I think the City should stay out of this one. Unless I need remind you: Save Tara v. City of West Hollywood. Shoo City Shoo.

  6. I think you two make a good point about structural improvements. I guess I’m more concerned with the property’s maintenance and upkeep, which is not the same as capitial improvements. The landlord should indeed be taking care of the roof, walls, foundation. This should be a warning that tenants need to press their landlords on these issues before they spiral out of control. At this point I do not think the Hongs will make it. There is too much incentive for the landowner to evict them even if it does cause some bad press in the short term. Right now the site is blight. I’d encourage everyone to make their way to Irv’s now while they still can!

  7. The Hongs have only owned Irv’s for the last 13 years. It has been a pretty run down looking property long before that. The landlord is the one responsible for the upkeep of the structural aspects of a rental property such as the roof. To make the tenant pay for that is wrong. I believe, like Riley, that the Hongs should have gone to the City and Code Enforcement should have gone out and inspected. It isn’t too late to cite the landlord.

    Those blaming the Hongs for the state of the building are being short-sided. It is not their responsibility, as renters, to maintain the structural aspects of the building they are renting. It is the landlord’s.

  8. Shouldn’t the repairs have been performed by the landlord all along? The Hongs are tenants and probably should’ve gone to the city long ago and the city should have cited Standard Oil Investment for code violations. It is just a sad state of affairs and it looks more and more like a large wealthy corporation will win over a family business. The city looks more and more like a plutocracy everyday. No more “village” in the urban village.

  9. My heart goes out to the Hongs but there is no excuse that they let the building deteriorate so badly that now it is going to costs tens of thousands in order to bring the space up to code. It is not the property owner’s responsibility to provide cap ex money for a restauarant that has solely occupied by one tenant. This should be a warning to all family run businesses in a rental situation that they need to be committed to upkeep. The current structure is in very bad shape, an eye-sore, and could possible be dangerous.

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