Business & Economy

LA moves to tighten Ellis Act eviction rules

Tenant's activists increasingly have protested Ellis Act evictions, as the numbers have risen in recent years.
Tenant's activists increasingly have protested Ellis Act evictions, as the numbers have risen in recent years.
Timo Saarelma via L.A. Tenants Union

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The city of Los Angeles is moving toward tightening enforcement of a state law that allows property owners to evict tenants in rent-controlled units if they are getting out of the apartment business.

The L.A. City Council's Housing Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a proposal they say addresses loopholes in the Ellis Act. The plan now moves to the full council for a vote.

The proposal seeks, among other things, to stop landlords from re-renting apartments once tenants have been evicted under the Ellis Act. To remove tenants, landlords must agree to convert the units into condominiums or let the building sit vacant for five years.  If they get back into the rental market before those five years are up, they would be subject to rent regulations.

Under the changes approved by the housing committee, the five-year, no-rent clock would start all over again for landlords who prematurely re-rent a unit after it was vacated under the Ellis Act. Landlords would also be required to file annual status reports on those units.

Larry Gross, a housing advocate with the Coalition for Economic Survival, said the new provisions are an “important step.”

“These provisions go toward plugging up those loopholes and providing the tenants with some degree of additional protections,” Gross said.

But others said the new provisions would handcuff the ability of developers to add needed new housing in Los Angeles. One change is aimed at landlords who demolished a building, and built new units. If they decide to get back into the rental market, they would have to make all of the replacement units subject to rent control or set aside 20 percent of the new building as below-market units — whichever number is higher.

Beverly Kenworthy, who heads the California Apartment Association, said that the city was locking property owners into maintaining old housing stock when they could be developing higher-density replacement complexes.

“If a disincentive for new housing is what you’re going for, this works,” Kenworthy told the Housing Committee.

One question tenants advocates had was how the city would enforce the new rules. Anna Ortega of the city's Housing and Community Development Department told the housing committee that it would be difficult to prove complaints about landlords illegally renting apartments after they said they'd cleared a building using the Ellis Act.

Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said this was an unfair advantage that landlords had over tenants.

“The onus is upon us to figure out what kind of city we want to live in and what kind of laws we’re going to enforce,” Harris-Dawson said, to a round of applause by tenant’s activists in the hearing room.

Councilmember Paul Koretz questioned why the Ellis Act should even exist anymore. He said it's no longer used for its original intent, which was to allow landlords, especially mom-and-pop's, to get out of the rental business if they were losing money.

Now, "it's virtually used exclusively to destroy (rent-stabilized) properties, particularly historic properties, and replace them with high market-rate housing," Koretz said.

Koretz said that state legislators must figure out a way to salvage the affordable housing lost to the Ellis Act.  

This story has been updated.