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L.A. city officials say Hollywood high-rise can't be used as hotel

L.A. city officials say Hollywood high-rise can't be used as hotel
The Sunset and Gordon project on Sunset Boulevard is seenin Hollywood on Oct. 10, 2014. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles officials are demanding that a company leasing part of a Sunset Boulevard apartment building stop using it as a hotel, the latest dispute to roil the controversial Hollywood high-rise.

Building department officials first issued a violation order in April, arguing that the Sunset and Gordon building was being used for short stays without getting proper approval from the city.

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But a company that was leasing space in the 22-story building fought back. Ginosi Apartments filed an appeal that challenged the order and said the city was "in error in its allegations."

Earlier this week, the Department of Building and Safety rejected those arguments, saying it had evidence from online searches and reports from tenants that rooms were being rented out day-to-day.

Such rentals are "a prohibited use for this property," the building department decision said.

Thomas Nitti, an attorney representing Ginosi, said the company has not decided whether to appeal. It maintains that renting out units for short stays at the building is legal. Nitti also argued that the city has not gone after other rentals in the same way.

The battle over the Hollywood building comes as the city wrestles with how to regulate short-term rentals across Los Angeles.

Though such rentals are banned in most residential stretches of the city, enforcement hasn't kept up with the explosive popularity of online platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO that connect travelers with hosts offering rooms or entire homes for short stays. Many local hosts rent out a single room or their own home, but some operators have used such platforms to operate multiple units or entire buildings, like hotels.

CIM Group, which owns the Sunset and Gordon building, said it "does not condone unlawful activities or operations at any of its properties" and "has been proceeding diligently to remove Ginosi." It said it had not been collecting rent from the company since March.

Attorney Robert Silverstein, who filed a separate lawsuit challenging the Sunset Boulevard project, was skeptical of those arguments but countered that regardless of whether the company was still getting rent, CIM bore responsibility because it had knowingly allowed Ginosi to operate such illegal rentals and profited from the lease.

"CIM made this bed," Silverstein said. "Now it has to lie in it."

The Ginosi lease, included in court documents, stated that the company would rent out units for both short and extended stays via platforms such as Craigslist, Airbnb and Hotels.com. The building has 299 units, of which 65 were leased to Ginosi, according to court documents.

At a city hearing earlier this year, tenants complained that they felt unsafe because several floors of the building had been turned into something like a hotel. They said the revolving door of short-term visitors had brought partying, prostitution and drug dealing.

Nitti, the attorney representing Ginosi, said he did not think such problems were occurring at the building. "This is not a flophouse," he said. "These are fairly pricey rents."

The Hollywood building already has been locked in legal battles over whether it flouted city conditions for approving the project by razing a 1924 structure on the site — and whether its tenants must clear out.

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Last year, a judge ruled that its building permits should be invalidated. The builder owner, CIM Group, is appealing that ruling. Building and Safety officials then issued an order to clear out the 22-story building, but an appeals court issued a stay to stop them from enforcing it.

Follow @latimesemily for what's happening at Los Angeles City Hall

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