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March 5, 2009

Persistent Tenants Score Another Victory in Long-Term Fight to Preserve Their Homes


CES Grand Villas tenants and Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County Attorneys gather after a Planning Department hearing where it became clear the condo conversion would be rejected. From left to right: Steve Boroumand, Attorney Stephanie Haffner, Attorney Ugochi Anaebere, Marla Joseph, Barbara Saget, Suzanne Henry & Rose Moskowitz.

Yet, another victory was recently achieved when a large condominium conversion was turned down in the San Fernando Valley resulting in tenants saving their homes and affordable housing being preserved.

CES tenants at the 104-unit rent controlled Grand Villas Apartments (formerly Magnolia Park Apartments) in Sherman Oaks has been fighting to keep the roof over their heads for some 15 years now. They have fought major rehabilitation evictions, capital improvement rent pass-throughs, reduction of services, environmental hazards and the latest battle, an attempted condominium conversion. Their commitment and determination has outlasted 3 different owners who ended up selling the property in frustration of not being able to displace tenants and jack up rents.

The current owner, Brian Dror, is a notorious developer speculator who has brought numerous apartments in L.A., which he converts, displaces tenants and pockets big profits. He began his quest to convert the building to condos about two years ago.

In December 2007, Dror’s original application before the Area Advisory Agency was denied due to problems with the required tenant notices. As he left the hearing, which was held just prior to the holidays, he made a call on his cell phone and in a voice loud enough for tenants attending the hearing to hear, he spitefully told the person he called to prepare the eviction notices. Luckily, he never followed through with it. But, he did re-file the condo conversion application.

Another Planning Department Advisory Agency hearing on the new conversion applicaton was held on February 5, 2009. Tenants turned out to testify in opposition to the conversion. They were supported by Ugochi Anaebere, Attorney for the Neighborhood Legal Services of LA County (NLS-LA) and CES Executive Director Larry Gross. Ms. Anaebere, together  with Stephanie Haffner, another NLS-LA Attorney, has been providing tenants legal representation and had preparation a solid case in opposition to the conversation.

On March 5, 2009, the Advisory Agency released its decision that firmly denied the condo conversions.

Included in its findings were:

That vacancy rate of Planning Area is less than 5% and the proposed conversion will have a significant cumulative effect on the rental housing market. The Advisory Agency found that the developer failed to survey how many people were willing and able to purchase the converted units.  The Advisory Agency also found that 63% of 104 unit households signed statements that they were unwilling and unable to afford the new condo units.  Further, the Advisory Agency found that approval of the conversion would increase the loss of rent controlled units in that zip code by over 66%. 

In addition to tenant notice problems under the Subdivision Map Act, the Advisory Agency also found that a letter from developer sent out before the hearing informing tenants that it had no plans now, or in the new future of  converting this property, and that the project had been shelved for now, undermined the 60 Day intent to convert notices and chilled public participation in the process.

While this is a significant victory, the tenants have come to know that the developer will probably not give up. And, if he does, there will probably be another owner who will attempt to displace them. But, as has been the case, the tenants are ready and willing to continue to fight.

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