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Los Feliz Ledger

Thursday October 01, 2015

Neighborhood Council Asks City to Crack Down on "Ellis Act" Abuse

by Allison B. Cohen, Ezekiel Hernandez and Erin Hickey

Members of the Rodney Drive Tenants Association protest their upcoming eviction due to the Ellis Act. Property owners can evict tenants for major building renovations or for their own use but must keep the units off the rental market for at least five years. Some say owners break the law, which is hard to enforce, to get away from rent control. Photo: Timo Saarelma.

The Los Feliz Neighborhood Council (LFNC) unanimously voted in September to send a multi-faceted and far-reaching resolution to city officials urging them to toughen up citywide—and specifically, locally—on "Ellis Act" evictions by price-speculating landlords.

The Ellis Act is a state law that allows apartment owners to evict tenants if the landlords no longer want to be in the rental business. Under the law, landlords cannot rent the apartments again for five years, while units that are converted to condos can be put back on the market and sold without a waiting period.

According to experts, apartment owners often abuse the law, putting the units back on the market for a higher rent or to sell for lucrative condo prices soon after they've been vacated.

There have been a number of high profile "Ellis Act" evictions locally in the last year, including at apartments on Rodney Drive and the Villa Carlotta on Franklin Avenue.

Most recently, tenants of the Cove Apartments on Commonwealth Avenue received notices warning them of a pending condo conversion, following the complex's sale in May to Robhana Group, a real estate investment firm.

"What's happening in Los Angeles is impacting a lot of people," said Diane Coleman, a resident of the Cove. "And there are many people that don't have the ability to defend themselves."

Some Cove apartment residents told the LFNC at its August meeting they had been offered cash to move out quietly.

"The residents of numerous multi-unit dwellings within Los Feliz have been recently served with eviction notices or move-out incentive offers of questionable veracity," according to Marcus Rodriguez with the LFNC.

Landlords who invoke the Ellis Act aren't required to disclose their plans to the city, only that their rental units are being taken off the market.

Earlier this year, Anna Ortega of the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Dept. said that agency does not have the power to deny landlords the use of the Ellis Act.

"We take the landlord at their word that they are going out of the rental business," Ortega said earlier. "You can't force someone to be a landlord."

Others, like Larry Gross, the executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a non profit that aims to help those living in low income households, said currently there is little to no city oversight of Ellised properties.

"There really aren't any checks on the building after the tenants have left," Gross said earlier this year when the Rodney Drive tenants received their Ellis Act eviction notices.

Occupied rental properties withdrawn from the housing market peaked in 2006 and dropped dramatically during the recent economic downturn but have increased by over 300% from 2013-14, according to a report by the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Dept.

In its motion to city officials, the LFNC indicated they support three pending city council motions that, if approved, will revisit Los Angeles' "Rent Stabilization Ordinance," increase the monitoring of Ellis Act properties and "preserve rent stabilized housing" in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell authored one of those motions.

"I had a property owner who just purchased a rent stabilized building that wanted to turn it into a boutique hotel," O'Farrell said. "I told him I wouldn't support evicting about 200 people and he withdrew…. We have property owners abusing the Ellis Act."

The LFNC's motion also asked city officials to set an "annual limit of the number of demolitions of rent-controlled units" in Los Feliz; and that the city should not allow zoning changes for "Ellised" properties, for example, from apartment use to a hotel.

Additionally, the LFNC asked city officials to enhance incentives for developers who include affordable units in their projects, including those for people with very low, low or moderate incomes.

"A bunch of people came to this council and said 'help us', and our initial response was that there's not a whole lot we can do. But it turned out that there was," said LFNC Vice President Mark F. Mauceri.

Mauceri said he is hopeful the LFNC's resolution to the city council as well as that body's current scrutiny on the issue will put a stop of Ellis Act abuse.

"I think everyone knows the jig is up," Mauceri said, "and I think that's why we're seeing all these houses being served with these notices, because [landlords] are being told, 'Do it now, because you're not going to be able to do it a year from now.'"

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