Is the eviction of hundreds of renters from Barrington Plaza legal? A court case to decide is now underway.

A woman reads through papers.
Josette Rojas, a tenant at Barrington Plaza, looks through an eviction notice in 2023.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Nearly a year ago, every tenant at the massive Westside apartment complex Barrington Plaza was served with an eviction notice by their landlord, who said the residents of nearly 600 units needed to move out so the company could install fire sprinklers following two major blazes.

In the months since, most of the tenants have left. But more than 100 stayed behind, vowing to fight in court for the right to stay in their rent-controlled units, suspecting that the owner’s real intent was to upgrade the complex and re-rent the units at market rate.

On Wednesday, their day in court finally came as lawyers for the tenants and the owner, Douglas Emmett Inc., presented opening arguments in a civil case that will decide whether the evictions are legal. The tenants and their advocates see the case as an important test of renter protections in a city faced with an affordable housing crisis.


“I wanted to make sure I’m represented in this fight for tenants in Los Angeles,” said Barrington tenant Chuck Martinez, who has lived in the building since 2021. “To lose this affordable housing is a step backward for L.A.”

For the owner, the case at the Santa Monica Courthouse is about landlords having the legal right to choose not to continue renting their units. “Inside the courtroom, this is a case about upholding the law,” said John Samuel Gibson, attorney for Douglas Emmett.

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The company wants to evict the residents under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict rent-stabilized tenants to remove units from the rental market — for instance, to build condos.

The heart of the case revolves around whether the company truly intended to take the units off the rental market and whether the law requires them to do so permanently.

Frances M. Campbell, the tenant’s attorney, said evidence presented during the trial would show that the company for years had plans to “transform and upgrade” the complex and to re-rent the apartments “at a new market rate.”

Campbell said the law requires owners who invoke the Ellis Act to remove the units permanently from the rental market.


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“Defendants can point to no case that allows a landlord to invoke the Ellis Act to temporarily go out of the rental business while it remodels or makes repairs to its buildings. And that makes sense, because that is not the purpose of the Ellis Act,” the tenants’ lawyers wrote in a trial brief.

The lawyer pointed to an email sent by Douglas Emmett CEO Jordan Kaplan to city housing official Mercedes Márquez in May 2023, just days before the eviction notices were filed, as evidence that the company intended to re-rent the units.

“This project is likely to take many years and assuming we bring the rental units back online within 10 years (which is a very good assumption) they will still be subject to the RSO,” Kaplan wrote, referring to the city’s rent stabilization ordinance.

In his arguments on behalf of Douglas Emmett, Gibson pointed to that same email as evidence that the company wasn’t trying to evade rent control.

“I personally assure you we are not doing this to remove Barrington Plaza from the RSO,” the email said.

Installing fire sprinklers and making other safety upgrades is a multiyear project, and the apartments will be removed from the market during that time, he said.


The law allows owners to use the Ellis Act to “take the property off the rental market for a longterm period,” the company’s lawyers argued in a trial brief.

The Ellis Act does not require owners to remove the properties from the rental market forever, he said. Only that they do not “conduct a sham removal” in order to evade rent control.

“This is not one of those sham situations,” Gibson said.