Advertisement

Fire-plagued apartment complex to remove tenants for sprinkler retrofit

An aerial frame of a three-building apartment complex.
Barrington Plaza, a three-building Los Angeles apartment complex built in the early 1960s, will evict all of its tenants, some of whom have lived there for decades in rent-stabilized units, so its landlord can install fire sprinklers.
(Douglas Emmett Inc.)
Share

The owners of Barrington Plaza, an aging Los Angeles apartment complex with a record of life-threatening fires, said Monday that they plan to evict all tenants to make way for a sprinkler retrofit that will cost more than $300 million and take several years.

Landlord Douglas Emmett Inc. notified city officials that it will withdraw all 712 units in Barrington Plaza from the rental market under the Ellis Act. The state law allows landlords to remove tenants from rent-stabilized apartments if their building is removed from the rental market.

It is expected to be one of the largest mass evictions in the city in recent years, affecting 577 occupied units, some of which house tenants who have lived in the property for decades under rent controls that keep their monthly payments below market rate.

Residents were notified Monday of the planned closure.

Tenant rights advocate Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival said Douglas Emmett should have planned to temporarily relocate the tenants and allow them to return to their rent-controlled units when repairs are complete.

Advertisement

“There are long-term tenants who are going to end up being displaced and will have to pay much higher rents” in the future, he said. “They won’t be able to find comparable housing in the neighborhood or even the city.”

The complex at Wilshire Boulevard and Barrington Avenue in L.A.’s Sawtelle neighborhood will be returned to the rental market when the upgrades are complete, the landlord said. No completion date has been set and there are no provisions for tenants to return to their units.

Current tenants may have as long as a year to move out and, in the case of elderly or disabled occupants, could receive more than $22,000 in financial assistance for relocation, the landlord said.

Relocation expense payments for tenants who have lived in the building for less than three years will be as much as $9,200 and may be used for such costs as first and last months’ rent in another apartment, security deposits and moving fees. The dollar amounts follow city eviction guidelines.

Due to high turnover, most tenants are currently paying market rate rent, the landlord said.

Barrington Plaza lacks an internal sprinkler system, fire officials said, and some are questioning why sprinklers weren’t installed after 2013 blaze.

Jan. 29, 2020

The three-tower complex was built in the early 1960s, which puts it in a group of 55 residential towers in Los Angeles that are exempt from laws requiring sprinklers that are triggered by fire. Sprinklers are mandated in most apartment buildings, but the city has maintained an exemption for high-rises built between 1943 and 1974. Among them are condominium buildings occupied by owners who have resisted the expense of adding sprinklers.

The lack of sprinklers at Barrington Plaza proved dangerous in 2013, when one of its three towers caught fire, displacing 125 residents. Fire erupted again in the same 25-story structure, known as Tower A, in 2020. A 19-year-old man died and 13 people were injured, including a 3-month-old baby and two firefighters. Eight floors in the building were red-tagged by city inspectors as unsafe to occupy and remain vacant.

Advertisement
A resident holds on standing on a ledge outside an apartment window while a nearby balcony is engulfed in flames.
A man trying to escape flames walked along a ledge after a fire engulfed the sixth floor of Tower A of the 25-story Barrington Plaza apartments in 2020. Firefighters were able to rescue the man.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Although city law does not require Barrington Plaza and other residential towers of its era to perform sprinkler retrofits, city officials did make approval of Barrington Plaza’s planned repairs from the 2020 fire contingent on upgrading the safety standards of all units.

“We understand the impact removing all Barrington Plaza rental units from the market will have on our tenants,” Douglas Emmett Chief Executive Jordan Kaplan said in a statement. “Unfortunately, this is the only way to comply with city directives to install fire sprinklers and other life safety improvements throughout the towers following the January 2020 fire.”

Barrington Plaza will have relocation specialists available at the property who can provide individualized tenant support and aid in locating, viewing and moving into new residences, the landlord said. There will also be a telephone hotline to answer tenant questions.

“Although almost 75% of our residents have been at Barrington Plaza for less than three years, we have some residents that have been here over 20 years, and we want to make sure that this process is as seamless as possible for them,” Kaplan said. “That is why we are going far beyond the Ellis Act requirements by providing individualized relocation support tailored to the specific circumstances of each tenant.”

Gross said the landlord should use other means to protect tenants’ housing at Barrington Plaza.

Advertisement

“That’s one of the largest complexes on the Westside,” he said. Its “rent-controlled units will be lost forever if they use the Ellis Act.”

Advertisement