The owners of a West Hollywood hotel last week won an important round in their bid to evict a handful of tenants who were once told that they could live there indefinitely.
"I feel like I've been betrayed," said Candy Ward, who was evicted from Le Mondrian hotel on Sunset Boulevard after a judge denied an appeal that would have permitted her to stay in the quarters where she has lived for 20 years.
A spokesman for the hotel's owners expressed hope that six other low- to moderate-income tenants who have been waging a legal battle to remain will soon be evicted.
"It's not pleasant to evict these people, but we've tried to be fair to them," said Gary Nielsen, executive vice president and lawyer for Ashkenazy Enterprises, which is headed by Severyn Ashkenazy.
Some Chose to Fight
The tenants, who lived in the 16-story building before it was converted from apartments to a luxury hotel in 1984, have been fighting to stay there for more than a year. Most of the other residents moved when the conversion took place.
Nielsen said the evictions are necessary because the company is trying to improve its financial position. Ashkenazy Enterprises filed last year for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization, which temporarily protects bankrupt corporations from creditors.
Some of the tenants had been paying less than $400 a month rent for suites that now cost $260 to $350 a night, Nielsen said. He asserted that the hotel lost "$75,000 last year alone" in rental revenue from Ward's two-bedroom suite.
Ward, a photographer, said she returned to her apartment last week to find a notice on the door and the locks changed.
"They told me I have 14 days to clear out my things, but so far they've kept me locked out," she said Thursday. "They won't even let me in to get a toothbrush."
Mark Steres, an attorney for Ashkenazy Enterprises, which operates L'Ermitage Hotel Group, said the company has been "more than fair" to the tenants "and has definitely stayed within its legal bounds."
Made 'Our Lives Miserable'
The tenants paint a different picture.
Maxine Harris, who has lived in the building for 11 years, said the hotel's management "has done everything it can to make our lives miserable."
In a lawsuit scheduled for trial Friday, she accuses the company of fraud, unfair business practices and inflicting emotional distress, and is asking $500,000 in punitive damages.
Harris, who is disabled, was paying $453 a month for the two-bedroom suite she shares with her 26-year-old mentally retarded daughter, Michele, when the company began eviction proceedings against her.
"We live on $1,250 per month," she said. "It scares me to think about having to go and start all over in a (housing) project somewhere."
She and other tenants charge that the company reneged on a promise to let them remain at the hotel.
In August, 1983, when Ashkenazy applied for a conditional use permit allowing the apartment building's conversion, the company told county officials that it would let some of the residents stay as tenants.
After the permit was granted, Ashkenazy representatives sent the tenants a letter on Sept. 9, 1983, telling them that they could remain for as long as they wanted.
"Your rent for the remodeled unit will be the same as your present rent, and your tenancy will be on the same terms and conditions as your existing lease. You will be welcome to remain in your remodeled unit as long as you wish," the letter read.
During the months the building was being renovated, the company paid for moving expenses and provided tenants with rent-free accommodations at another of Ashkenazy's hotels.
But relations turned sour after the tenants moved back into their refurbished units.
"They said the square footage wouldn't be changed, but I returned to a kitchen the size of an ironing board," Harris said. "They gave me a two-burner stove, a single sink and one of those little refrigerators you find inside camper trailers."
The company advised the tenants that their units would be withdrawn from the rental market on Dec. 31, 1986, under the Ellis Act. That law, which went into effect July 1, 1986, allows owners to evict tenants and go out of business.
Neither Legal Nor Moral
Harris and the others cried foul.
"It wasn't right," tenant Lester Jackson said. "We don't think it was even legal, but it certainly wasn't morally the right thing to do after what they'd promised us."
Last month, in turning down an appeal by another tenant, Gina Rae, a judge ruled that the company was within its rights in issuing the eviction notices under the Ellis Act.
Rae still lives at the hotel, having gained a temporary stay of an order to evict her.
She maintains that she and the others received eviction notices in retaliation for her request that the company install laundry facilities.
Ashkenazy officials have denied the accusation.
"As for the (1983) letter, it comes down to a matter of economics," Nielsen said. "We're talking about a company that is in reorganization, which has a need to stabilize its economic position. We're under a fiduciary duty to maximize the company's assets."
Rae labeled Ashkenazy's claims of financial hardship "a lame excuse for the inhumane way they've treated us. . . . They were quick to make promises in order to get the hotel approved. Then you see what happened. They decided we were dispensable.'