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March 2, 2009

US Court of Appeals Hears Major Tenants Rights Case Brought on Behalf of CES HUD Tenants


Attorney Michael Soloff (left), assisted by Attorney Jim Grow (right) gathers his papers after providing argument before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of CES tenants living at Morton Gardens.

On March 2, 2009, the right of many L.A. HUD Subsidized tenants to be able to remain in their affordable housing was argued before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The tenants live at the Morton Garden apartments, a 66-unit building which is situated just over a hill from Dodger Stadium in Echo Park.

The tenants, who are CES members, have been represented by a legal team consisting of Attorney Michael Soloff, a partner in the prestigious downtown law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson, Attorney Jim Grow, the nationally acclaimed subsidized housing legal expert with the Oakland-based National Housing Law Project, and long-time tenants’ rights Attorney Christian Abasto of the Legal Aid Foundation of L.A. They have provided tenants with tireless work and deep commitment and dedication. It was Michael Soloff who brilliantly argued the tenants case before the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The legal outcome has implications, not just for the Morton Gardens families whose rent is partially paid by the Section 8 program, but also for the over 40,000 families in Los Angeles who hold vouchers, as well as HUD and Section 8 tenants across the nation.


CES member Dulce Pena, who lives at the Morton Gardens Apartments in Echo Park, hands UCLA Real Estate Professor Eric Sussman, her landlord, a ceramic pig award for the city's greedist landlord as Morton Garden children look on.

For the last 20 years, CES has been assisting these tenants efforts to fight off evictions. Morton Gardens was developed in 1971 as a low-income rental housing project through a HUD subsidized mortgage-secured low interest loan program.

In 1998 the prior owners prepaid the subsidized loan in advance of the original loan maturity date, thus removing the federal rent restrictions. As a result, tenants in residence received "enhanced" Section 8 rent subsidy vouchers, which entitled them the right to remain in their units, paying the same rent and requires landlords to accept these vouchers as long as the tenants decide to stay and Congress provides the funding. In addition, other tenants have since moved in holding regular Section 8 vouchers.

Back in 2003, the City and the tenants had obtained an earlier ruling from the 9th Circuit Court that upheld the application of the City's rent control law to the units, rejecting the owner's claim that federal law "preempted" local rent protections.

In 2006, Eric Sussman, who along with other partners bought the building for $8 million, is not just any landlord. He teaches real estate at one of the nation's preeminent business schools, the UCLA Anderson School of Management. CES and tenants say he should have known when he bought Morton Gardens that Section 8 tenants lived there and it is unethical of him to try to evict them just to increase rents.

The Morton Garden case involves two related, but distinct, federal tenant-based housing subsidies: "enhanced Section 8 vouchers" and regular Section 8 "housing choice vouchers."

The landlord is challenging the Congressionally enacted right to remain for the enhanced voucher holders, as well as the applicability of the city's just cause eviction law, which protects Section 8 tenants living in rent controlled units. Tenant attorneys citywide have been defending tenants against a wave of 90-day Section 8 termination notices, arguing that a Section 8 contract cannot be terminated until there is a vacancy and there needs to be a "just cause" reason under the rent control law to evict a tenant to secure a vacancy.

In 2007, tenants, outraged by eviction notices they received, rode a school bus to UCLA to protest outside his class. They held signs, chanted and then presented Sussman with a ceramic piggy bank, an award as the “Greediest Landlord in L.A.”

Morton Gardens tenants, children and supporters traveled to UCLA to confront their landlord outside his classroom. Protesters wore CES bright red T-shirts and hoisted signs telling Sussman he should be ashamed.

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