In an ongoing battle to prevent the demolition of affordable housing in Beverly Grove and the Fairfax District, Beverly Grove resident Steve Luftman took the fight against his eviction to Los Angeles Superior Court on Aug. 8.
Luftman and his girlfriend, Karen Smalley, were served with an eviction notice by their landlord Matthew Jacobs, a member of Blg Flores, LLC, the company that owns the building, terminating their tenancy under the Ellis Act, a 1980s law enabling landlords to sell their property if they are leaving the rental business. The motion to dismiss comes after Jacobs allegedly gave tenants only 117 days notice of eviction, as opposed to the 120 days required by the Ellis Act.
The court case follows Jacobs’ announcement that he will be stepping down from his position as chairman of the California Housing Finance Agency, a state agency that helps provide affordable housing, in September*. His decision to step down came after much petitioning from Tenants Together, a statewide tenants’ rights organization, and others in protest of Luftman and his fellow tenants’ eviction.
Altogether, Jacobs evicted tenants from nine rent stabilized units on N. Flores Street, and eight stabilized units on Edinburgh Avenue.
“I’m trying to accomplish two things – first, I want to bring this issue with the Ellis Act to light because it should be changed overall,” Luftman said. “Second, our neighborhood is a great resource in Los Angeles, and [Jacobs] wants to come in and ruin it. I’m fighting against that happening and I am finding that I have a lot of support.”
During the hearing, the judge remarked on the lack of clarity of local legislation on the Ellis Act, including the overlap of state law, city ordinances and city regulations. However, Frances Campbell, of Campbell & Farahani, who represents Luftman and Smalley, argued that the legislation is perfectly clear, but simply was not adhered to by Jacobs.
“The fact is, that as a renter, I do not feel secure, and with over 50 percent of the city’s population being renters, something needs to be done to change that,” Luftman said. “The idea that one day you might wake up and can be served and have to leave your home in four months is insane. We need more security as renters.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, 43rd District, and Congresswoman Karen Bass, 37th District, recently wrote a letter to Kevin de Leon, California State Senate President pro Tempore, and Toni Atkins, Speaker of the California Assembly, urging them to support legislation that will put a moratorium on the Ellis Act. In Los Angeles, property owners evicted tenants from more than 725 units under the Ellis Act in 2014, more than doubling the 308 units in 2013, according to their letter. They argue that instead of turning houses into luxury apartments, the state needs to protect its existing affordable housing stock, as there is a lack of units in the private sector and the federal housing programs already struggle to meet the existing need.
Weighing in on the current use of the Ellis Act in greater Los Angeles and in this case specifically, Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District, said he supports Luftman standing his ground.
“The Ellis Act was established to help mom and pop owners that could not afford to operate their rent controlled properties anymore. I do not think it was intended for the common use it has these days in the developer buying up properties and flipping them,” Koretz said. “This case is absolutely not the use intended use of the Ellis Act – where someone is buying a property, demolishing a building, then developing the space after the fact to make a profit.”
Luftman expects a ruling from the court as early as Friday, but in the meantime has taken steps to get his apartment building recognized as a historical cultural monument by the city’s Office of Historic Resources. The North Flores Street buildings were built in the 1930s by Meyer and Holler, one of the city’s most well known design and construction firms recognized for their work on Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, the Egyptian Theatre, Charles Chaplin Studios and more, according to Luftman’s application.
“Not only are our buildings excellent examples of late thirties courtyard apartments but they tell the story of the nation, the city of Los Angeles, and of the lives of people recovering from the depths of the great depression. They also tell an eerily familiar story of the repeating boom and bust of Los Angeles’ real estate market,” Luftman said.
The Office of Historic Resources accepted Luftman’s application on July 16 and members from the subcommittee visited his residence on Aug. 8. Luftman and Smalley are preparing to present their petition again on Sept. 3, at which time the committee will vote and, if passed, it will be presented to the Los Angeles City Council.
Koretz was also present at the subcommittee’s walkthrough believes that it is one of the important historical properties that should be preserved in the Beverly Grove area.
“The quality of life and character in this neighborhood, which I also happen to live in, has been dramatically impacted by the Ellis Act. We now have some of the poorest designs and ugly buildings,” Koretz said. “It is taking a historical neighborhood and turning it on its head.”
Luftman said that having neighbors and members of the community in the same fight as him has given him the courage to press on against the Ellis Act. To date, he has more than 200 signatures from community members petitioning to preserve his neighborhood.
*Editor’s note: On Thursday, Aug. 13, Jacobs contact Park Labrea News & Beverly Press to note that he had not stepped down from his position as chairman of the California Housing Finance Agency, but rather is not seeking reappointment as his term is ending.
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