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CES In The News

Los Angeles Times
Wednesday November 15, 2006
L.A. tries to stem switch to condos
To maintain the supply side of low-cost rentals, the city will enforce a law that may slow conversions.
By Steve Hymon, Times Staff Writer

The Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to begin enforcing a law that has been on the books since 1981 that gives the city some authority to deny building permits for conversions of apartments into condominiums.

The move comes after 12,000 rent-controlled apartments have been converted into condos or demolished in the last five years — 8,000 of them since 2005.

This Picture Did Not Appear In the Original Version of This Article
Housing activists have been critical of the city for not enforcing the law, alleging that it reflects a tendency to protect developers over tenants.

"Thousands of Los Angeles renters — families, seniors, people on fixed incomes — have been pushed out of their homes and added to the lack of affordable housing in Los Angeles," said Larry Gross, a housing activist and executive director of Coalition for Economic Survival. "All those units that could have potentially been saved have been lost forever."

In a contentious council Housing Committee meeting last month, representatives of the city attorney's office and the planning department said the law was not being enforced because they had concerns over its legality.

"I was shocked" to find out it was not being enforced, said Councilman Bill Rosendahl. "I heard it from the housing activists."

Jeri Burge, a city attorney for land use, told the council that her office would do its best to enforce the law according to the council's wishes.

The basic conflict involves a state law known as the Ellis Act, which preserves the rights of apartment owners to go out of business or to change the type of dwelling they offer. Under this law, apartment owners can convert their buildings to individually purchased condos under certain conditions.

The city's law allows officials to deny a conversion request if the rental vacancy rate falls below 5%.

In addition, the city must find other conditions aren't being met, including adequate relocation plans for tenants and the proposed conversion's cumulative effect on the rental market.

It remains unclear how many — if any — proposed conversions the law would affect, although proponents say it helps to have any tool to slow the rate of conversions. And not everyone believes enforcing the law would be an effective remedy.

"People are talking politics, not reality," said Harold Greenberg, chairman of the government relations committee for the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles. He said that even if the city used the law to deny some conversions, there still would be an affordable housing shortage because the city offers few incentives to own apartment buildings.

The council asked staff members to explore whether the 1981 law could also be applied to apartment owners who wished to demolish their properties to make way for condos or subdivide them into smaller tracts.

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