Fearing that their landlords may soon impose the Ellis Act to evict them, a tenants’ association at The Cove apartments in Los Feliz met with the Coalition for Economic Survival on Monday to learn about their options and rights moving forward.
Larry Gross, the director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, and the tenants aren’t sure what the building owners have planned for their rent-controlled units at 2401 N. Commonwealth Ave. after management posted notices on doors and made offers to pay tenants to leave the building.
“This is their home and they want to stay there,” Gross said. “We’re not quite sure what this owner is doing … but the tenants can oppose it and stop it. We have stopped it in the past.”
J.P. Lavin, a nine-year tenant at The Cove apartments, said the notices were posted in August indicating that the owners planned to turn the units into condos and that tenants had to vacate in 90 days. Some residents thought it was an eviction notice. Landlords have applied only to turn 22 of the one-bedroom units into two-bedroom units.
Steven Taylor, a representative with Ness management, the building managers, said he is surprised to hear that tenants were confused about their situation. Although it’s an option that landlords are analyzing, Taylor said there are no plans to convert the building into condos and that he has told tenants the same thing.
After the notices were posted on doors, Lavin claimed landlords intentionally delayed maintenance requests to persuade tenants to take offers to leave.
Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, wrote a letter to building management saying he was “extremely alarmed” to learn about the letters and text messages sent to tenants. Ryu explained in the letter that state and city law requires landlords provide 120 days notice when units are to be withdrawn from the rental market under the Ellis Act, which would require relocation payments.
“Attempts to persuade tenants to accept a voluntary move-out order because of an alleged pending illegal condo conversion amounts to tenant intimidation,” the letter read. “This includes lapses in building maintenance or failure to perform any other duty under the terms of the rental agreement.”
Ryu said he was also aware that older tenants seem to have been targeted first with relocation offers. Landlords must apply for permits from city departments before notifying tenants.
Taylor said the Ellis Act is only an option right now, and no decisions to use it have been made.
Management explained soon after that the notices were a misunderstanding, and complaints about maintenance response were resolved by December after tenants threatened to file claims with the city. But Lavin claimed management continues to meet with tenants to make offers and threatens that they will invoke the Ellis Act if tenants don’t leave. Taylor said the buyout discussions have been suspended.
Lavin said management pressed him with what he called threats that they would raise rents, but he passed on the new offer to leave.
“It felt so oppressive and unnecessary,” he said. “They said, ‘It’s a grand slam for us to Ellis it and sell it.’”
Taylor said a meeting like that never happened.
The association members agreed that they would refuse the buyouts. Members of the Los Feliz Neighborhood Association and Gross have offered support and information to help tenants understand their rights during eviction speculation, mainly that tenants do not have to take the offers.
Lavin said approximately 16 tenants accepted offers to leave. Gross said the money that tenants are offered, $20,000 according to one notice, won’t go far when the rental market rate in the area has grown quickly.
“[The tenants] are all committed to taking on the owner to take whatever action they need to do to stop their displacement,” he said.
Lavin said the group is still figuring out specifically what measures they can take. He hopes their story helps other tenants in similar situations understand their rights. He said the tenant intimidation is part of a larger problem across the city in which real estate firms target rent-controlled buildings and flip them for profit through loopholes in the law.
“It’s happening all over, and it’s a disaster,” he said. “Maybe if it happens enough and they have enough info people can fight it and protect themselves.
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