Ellis Evictions Skyrocketing in Los Angeles

by Randy Shaw on April 26, 2006

As the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee considers approving new eviction protections today, a storm is erupting in Los Angeles over an explosion of Ellis Act evictions. We reported on February 14 that San Francisco attorneys saw Los Angeles as ripe for using Ellis to create TIC’s, and since that time the mass Ellis evictions at the 795-unit Lincoln Place apartments in Venice has galvanized anti-Ellis sentiment. San Francisco’s passage of legislation that forestalls evictions and the loss of rental housing could thus become a model for Los Angeles and other cities across California.

Los Angeles has recently been in the national news as having America’s greatest number of homeless persons. Not coincidentally, in the past five years Los Angeles has seen its scarce supply of rental housing reduced by a staggering 9,240 rental units as a result of the Ellis Act.

In 2005 alone, 586 buildings and 4,961 units were eliminated from Los Angeles’ rental housing stock under the Ellis Act. Even adjusting for the city’s population of four million (five times larger than San Francisco’s), Los Angeles is now leading the state in rental housing units lost under Ellis.

Los Angeles has an extraordinary lack of rental housing preservation laws, so owners invoking Ellis have more options at their disposal. For example, a common tactic in the city’s rapidly gentrifying Koreatown is for speculators to purchase a property, evict the tenants under Ellis, demolish the building, and then build condominiums on the site.

In San Francisco, even pro-development Planning Commissions have opposed demolishing sound rental buildings without providing replacement housing. But it is an entirely different story down south.

The tragedy at Lincoln Place began in the late 1990’s when the state Court of Appeal reinterpreted the Ellis Act to say that it pre-empted local anti-demolition laws. This allowed the initial demolition of 90 plus units, with the rest to follow when the current Ellis notices expire. City government signed off on a deal allowing the demolished units to be replaced with over 700 condominiums, requiring the developers to build only 150 rental units.

Ellis Act evictions for condominium conversions are as prevalent as for demolitions, though the city does not keep records on a building’s post-Ellis use. That’s why San Francisco attorneys are down in LA promoting Ellis as a strategy for creating TIC’s on the way to condominiums.

According to longtime housing activists, Los Angeles politicians are hearing from Ellis victims as never before. Many of those complaining, as in San Francisco, are shocked to learn that their legal protections against eviction can be overcome by speculators using the Ellis Act.

Since Los Angeles politics began moving left in 2001, much of housing activism has centered on passage of an inclusionary housing law and a local housing trust fund for building affordable housing. Now protecting tenants from eviction and protecting the city’s existing rental housing stock is becoming a top priority, and politicians are scrambling to do something about the problem.

Today’s Land Use Committee vote on Supervisor Peskin’s tenant protection measure is a critical first step toward not only helping San Francisco, but also providing Los Angeles with a roadmap for addressing its own Ellis problems. Passage by the full Board and a non-veto from Mayor Newsom would have statewide implications, and, if adopted by Los Angeles, the Peskin measure would have a huge impact in preventing evictions and saving rental housing statewide.

Send feedback to rshaw@beyondchron.org

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