Los Angeles officials are pressing forward with a new strategy that could thwart plans to turn Westside apartments into condominiums, in an effort to protect renters from eviction.
Tenant activists have complained that the Ellis Act has led to tens of thousands of evictions in Los Angeles. The California law allows people to be ejected from rent-stabilized apartments if the landlord is getting out of the rental business, which can include turning the building into condos.
Now L.A. is trying out a new strategy to prevent such evictions. Under the Municipal Code, the city can refuse to take a key step toward converting a residential building into condos if two conditions are met: that the rental market in the area has seen a “significant” cumulative effect from such building conversions, and the vacancy rate in the area is 5% or less.
Councilman Mike Bonin, who represents much of the Westside, wants the planning department to gather that information for a long list of Westside neighborhoods, including the Pacific Palisades, Westchester, Del Rey, Brentwood, Venice, Mar Vista and Palms. Doing so could thwart building conversions that give rise to Ellis Act evictions.
Bonin cited “an urgent need to protect existing affordable housing and vulnerable tenants throughout the Westside of Los Angeles” in his proposal. He said Tuesday that “we tend to only invoke the parts of the Ellis Act that hurt renters,” but the municipal rules surrounding condo conversions give Los Angeles a “targeted way” to try to protect tenants.
The City Council voted 10-0 without discussion to instruct city planners to work with the Department of Water and Power to evaluate whether the vacancy rate in those neighborhoods was at or under 5%, using U.S. Census Bureau data as a starting point. The planning department is also being told to tally up the number of rental units lost to condo conversions and other building conversions in those areas, consulting with the housing department.
That information could then back up a decision “to cease issuing Ellis Act clearances” in those areas until the vacancy rates have increased, according to the proposal approved Tuesday. Bonin said he believed the city would be able to make those findings.
Tenant activists praised the move and said they hoped other council members would pursue the same step for other parts of Los Angeles, giving renters and activists a new tool to stop Ellis Act evictions.
“The Ellis Act doesn’t give developers the right to do anything they want,” said Bill Przylucki, executive director of the community organizing group People Organized for Westside Renewal. “There are supposed to be limits on their power — and there are supposed to be protections for tenants.
“But the protections for tenants have never been effectively enforced,” Pryzlucki said, referring back to the rules in the Municipal Code surrounding vacancy rates.
Landlord groups have argued that the Ellis Act provides important protections for building owners who can’t afford to stay in the rental business. Daniel Yukelson, executive director of the Apartment Assn. of Greater Los Angeles, called the plan backed by Bonin a “terrible idea” and questioned whether the move was legal.
“How can you stop somebody from exiting a money-losing business?” Yukelson asked. “It basically would be a taking of their property.... I wish Mike Bonin would concentrate more on improving the homeless situation in his district than stealing people’s property rights from them.”
Bonin countered that the move would help address homelessness by “preventing renters from being thrown out onto the street.”
Planning officials will bring their report on vacancy rates back to the City Council for another vote before condo conversions can potentially be stopped in Westside neighborhoods, according to city staffers. Bonin spokesman David Graham-Caso said their hope was that the staff analysis would be done and ready for another vote within weeks.