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CES In The News
Los Angeles Times
Wednesday August 16, 2006
L.A. City Council Panel Proposes Rules to Protect Tenants
The provisions limit evictions by landlords who try to sidestep rent-control laws by saying their buildings will become condos but later rent the units at a higher price.
By Steve Hymon
Times Staff Writer

Taking a stab at one element in the controversial trend toward converting apartments to condominiums, a Los Angeles City Council panel on Tuesday moved to protect tenants of landlords suspected of trying to get around the city's rent control law.

The housing committee recommended new rules, which still require full council approval, that aim to make it more difficult for building owners to evict their tenants by saying they are converting apartments to condos but later rent out the units at higher prices.

Among the provisions of the new rules:

• Displaced tenants and/or the city could sue property owners if they evict tenants to make way for a condo and then rent units within two years.

• Tenants would be given the right to again rent their former apartments at the same price as when they were evicted, if a proposed condo conversion never happened.

• Property owners could not single out individual units for condo conversions as a way of getting rid of low-rent apartments.

The provisions enjoy broad support at City Hall and are expected to be approved by the council as early as Friday.

Though tenant activist groups support the proposed rules, they are quick to point out that such changes will not halt the tide of conversions.

"We can't build our way out of this housing crisis," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, who supports the new rules. "While these rules provide some benefits to tenants, it doesn't go to the heart of the problem: Condo conversions must be limited."

In the last two weeks, Councilmen Bill Rosendahl and Alex Padilla, have called for a moratorium on condo conversions in their districts until better rules can be drawn up to control conversions.

Some of their council colleagues do not agree that a moratorium would be effective. They say it would violate personal property laws and could lead to unintended consequences, such as more buildings being demolished or quashing the condo market for first-time home buyers.

Developers and business interests contend that a moratorium will not work and won't address the real problem: a shortage of housing.

The city estimates that between 3,300 and 4,500 apartments were converted to condos in the last five years. But those conversions came at a time when city statistics showed that the number of rental units protected by rent control was at an all-time high.

"I think what's right on about this is that it finds a balance between protecting the rights of tenants and also that of property owners," said Councilman Herb Wesson, chairman of the Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee.

The state Ellis Act gives property owners the right to go out of business or change the way they are doing business — that is, they may convert their buildings to condos. That law also gives cities the right to install tenant protections under municipal law, something that Los Angeles has been slow to do.

The council's housing panel also voted Tuesday to create an apartment construction task force consisting of city employees, housing activists and developers.

It also called for a study of the city's rent control law, which limits rent increases and evictions.

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