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CES In The News

Los Angeles Daily News
Wednesday November 1, 2006
Tenants Push City to Protect Condos


Frustrated by delays in creating new laws to protect tenants, housing advocates pushed the Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday to at least enforce existing regulations that could stop some condo conversions and demolitions.

"There's a lot of lip service being given to tenants," said Sherman Oaks renter Brooke Harker, an actress who received notice in September that her building would be converted to condos.

"But people are overlooking the fact that there are real people being evicted and we're going to lose our homes - not just apartments, but homes."

Under current city law, the city can reject a condo conversion or a demolition for condo construction when the rental vacancy rate is below 5 percent and the project would have major impact on the rental market.

Currently, the vacancy rate is about 3 percent in some areas.

But the Planning Department has rarely enforced the law in recent years, even as renters have been evicted from nearly 12,000 rent-controlled apartments to make way for for-sale condominiums.

Council President Eric Garcetti and his colleagues were troubled that a city regulation that could help protect tenants in a hot real estate market is not being used.

"We have to enforce current laws that exist and provide protections," Garcetti said. "We're working hard to build and create new affordable housing, but we need to work harder to keep the homes and apartments we already have. If we don't, we give with one hand and take away with the other."

But the Planning Department and City Attorney's Office said they haven't been enforcing the law because of concerns that it could conflict with the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they are converting the building to for-sale units.

Nick Velasquez, spokesman for City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, said the city could refuse to allow a condo conversion if there is a very low vacancy rate and the project could have a big impact on the nearby rental market.

"But there are questions as to whether those findings would be upheld, based on the Ellis Act," he said.

This Picture Did Not Appear In the Original Version of This Article
However, Larry Gross with the Coalition for Economic Survival
said the city's failure to enforce its own law has had devastating consequences for evicted residents.

"The inaccurate information provided by the city attorney has resulted in displacement of hundreds of residents and loss of affordable housing," he said.

In the meantime, the council's Housing, Community and Economic Development Committee gave city staff members another two months to develop protections for evicted tenants.

The housing and planning departments have 60 days to develop rules that require:

Landlords to provide tenants $1,000 for moving expenses, in addition to relocation assistance.

Long-term lease guarantees so the elderly and disabled can continue to live in a converted or new building at a reduced rent.

A higher fee for landlords who convert to condos. That money would be used to help build more affordable housing.

A higher fee to help evicted tenants find new housing.

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