Tenant fights Ellis Act eviction with historic building designation

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Loud cheers echoed off the walls of council chambers Wednesday after the Los Angeles city council voted 12-0 to designate the Mendel and Mabel Meyer Courtyard Apartments a historic property.

The apartments are at the center of a fight between one Los Angeles tenant and his landlord. The tenant, Steve Luftman, has spent the last six months fighting to get the apartments designated historic.

He said he was not only driven by the apartment building's beauty and history, but also because he wants to continue living there.

Back in February, his landlord handed out eviction notices, invoking the California Ellis Act, which allows property owners to evict tenants from rent-controlled apartments. Once the tenants are out, the landlords must wait five years before renting them out again, or they can knock them down and build condominiums or hotels in their place.

As the real estate market in Southern California has heated up, a growing number of apartment buildings have been sold, and converted into condos. Tenant advocates say this practice has caused many renters to lose what was once an affordable rent in Los Angeles. 

And while the eviction notice was distressing, Luftman said he was also upset to hear his building would be demolished.

"I woke up the next morning crying that these walls are now going to be torn down," he said. "It is a beautiful building and a beautiful neighborhood, and it was wrong. And I felt like I had to fight it."

When buildings are designated as historic in Los Angeles, it becomes more difficult for developers to tear them down because the city council must first approve the action.

Luftman filed paperwork with the city, arguing that his apartment building, a 1930s design in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of L.A., had historic significance. In September, the city's Cultural Heritage Commission agreed with him.

In their report they cited the apartment's builders Myer and Holler as "one of the City's most well-known design and construction firms in 1936 and 1939." Myer and Holler was also responsible for other notable properties including the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre, Culver Studios and Charles Chaplin Studios.

Luftman's case is not the first time a tenant facing eviction has sought historic monument status for his building, but Ken Bernstein, manager of the city's Office of Historic Resources, said his office does not see these types of proposals often.

While the building is safe for now, Luftman is unsure of his own future. He continues to live there, and is the only tenant who did not obey eviction orders. His best chance at remaining in the building is for his landlord to revert back to renting it. The landlord, Matthew Jacobs, did not return KPCC's calls for comment.


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