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Venice building must be immediately barred from running as hotel, L.A. council urges

The L.A. City Council urged the city attorney to push in court to immediately stop the Ellison in Venice from being used as a hotel, citing the coronavirus risk to longtime tenants.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles City Council is urging the city attorney to push in court to immediately stop a Venice building from being used as a hotel, arguing that a revolving door of travelers puts longtime tenants there at risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

An emergency motion, introduced Tuesday by Councilman Mike Bonin, says that as people try to stay at home to protect themselves and others from the virus, “the Ellison has continued booking rooms on a short-term basis, cutting rates to attract tourists and even young local partiers,” many of whom “continue to socialize day and night, disregarding social distancing requirements, and causing elderly and sick longtime residents to fear for their health.”

In light of the coronavirus, the motion states, “the threat to the health and safety of the long-term residents of the Ellison is imminent and ongoing, would lead to adverse and irrevocable harm, and demands immediate relief.”

The council voted unanimously to approve the motion Tuesday asking the city attorney to seek urgent action.

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Thomas Nitti, an attorney representing the building owners and management, called the move “a public relations stunt.” Other buildings are being cited for renting out units for short stays, Nitti said, not being singled out by the council for action.

Bonin “is just using the coronavirus as an excuse to shut down the building,” Nitti said. “He’s been trying to do that for five years — and this is the newest excuse.”

The city has already sued over the Ellison, accusing landlord Lance Jay Robbins and two companies tied to the Venice building of illegally operating the building as a hotel. The 58-unit building still has a dwindling number of longtime renters, who have complained of noise and other nuisances from night-to-night guests.

Tenants there say that renting out rooms by the night has now become a health threat, putting residents at higher risk of contracting the novel coronavirus. Among the longtime tenants at the building is a 71-year-old man who uses an oxygen tank and complained in an email that he had to share the elevator with “an ever-changing stream of tourists.”

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The Ellison has long been a focus for local activists and officials alarmed that apartment buildings have been illegally turned into hotels.

In a legal filing last month, the city pushed for a preliminary injunction to stop the Ellison from being used as a hotel, arguing that it had resulted in “the loss of valuable and much-needed rent-stabilized and affordable housing in Venice.” But that motion is not scheduled to be heard in court until May, spurring Bonin to press for swifter action.

Robbins and Nitti have argued that the city is retaliating for their own lawsuits against the city, which argue that the Ellison was historically rented out for short stays and wrongly categorized by the city as an apartment house. Building operators also contend that special steps have been taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus to guests and tenants, including providing hand sanitizer and by deep cleaning units.

The health issues posed by the Ellison are “no different than any hotel or apartment building in the city,” Nitti said. It’s “following the industry standards — the same things that any Hilton or Marriott is expected to do.”

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Brian Averill, a longtime tenant at the building, disputed those claims and said he and his neighbors were grateful that the council had pushed for action, hoping it will put a stop to the “health hazard” outside their doors.

“There’s no reason for this revolving door of kids coming in here to party,” Averill said. “You can’t put people at risk.”


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