Friday, August 18, 2006
Residents of Venice Apartment Complex Lose Bid to Stop Evictions
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe has denied a writ of mandate sought by the Lincoln Place Tenants Association against the City of Los Angeles seeking to enforce tenant protection conditions on the redevelopment of the Lincoln Apartments.
Apartment Investment and Management Company, the owner of the Venice Beach complex, had obtained city council approval of a massive redevelopment project pursuant to the Ellis Act—which allows landlords to take their properties off of the rental housing market—subject to the condition that it move tenants around within the complex during construction. The condition was a mitigating measure adopted pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act in order to ease the project’s otherwise significant adverse impact on population and housing.
The ruling is part of a long-running dispute between AIMCO and the tenants, who complain that redevelopment of the Venice property would cause the loss of affordable housing and the destruction of a historic resource. The Lincoln Place apartments have been cited as one of the earliest examples of garden-style apartment architecture in Los Angeles.
In its most recent legal move, the association filed suit against the city June 8 after AIMCO served approximately 40 households with notices to vacate by Aug. 31, LPTA’s attorney, John Murdock, said.
The LPTA contended that AIMCO’s eviction of the tenants constituted a violation of the mitigation conditions on the project, and therefore a violation of CEQA. Accordingly, LPTA argued, the court should order the city to set aside the Ellis Act notices filed with the city last March—declaring AIMCO’s intent to go out of the rental housing business—and should enjoin AIMCO from evicting the tenants.
But Yaffe ruled Wednesday that LPTA had an adequate remedy at law and was thus not entitled to equitable remedies.
“To the extent that the tenants of Lincoln Place are entitled to relocation assistance by any local, state or federal law, they may assert the alleged failure to provide such assistance as a defense in any unlawful detainer proceeding commenced by real party in interest,” Yaffe said in his minute order following Wednesday’s hearing.
Assistant City Attorney Susan Pfann, who heads the Real Property Environment
Division of the City Attorney’s Office, said the judge was correct.
“We believe as he did it was a matter to be decided in an unlawful detainer action between the tenants and the landlord,” she said. “We didn’t think it was something subject to CEQA. The [CEQA] conditions…are only triggered when the city issues the demolition permits for the property, and since we haven’t been asked to issue a demolition permit, we believe that there’s nothing for us to do.”
Moreover, even if LPTA’s claims were true, it waited too long to challenge the Ellis Act notices, Pfann said.
Murdock, however, said that Yaffe failed to address the central issue presented in the petition, which was whether CEQA trumped the Ellis Act.
“The city is claiming that the Ellis Act prevents them from allowing this landlord to evict the tenants, so it’s not doing anything to stop it,” Murdock explained. “We’re saying that the CEQA is not preempted by the Ellis Act. It’s a clash of two different state laws, and the city is opting to take the position that the Ellis Act is stronger than the CEQA. That is the central issue. Judge Yaffe did not address it.”
Murdock added that because the city would not be a part of the unlawful detainer proceedings, Yaffe’s ruling has made it impossible to compel the city to enforce its conditions. Murdock said his client would appeal.
AIMCO’s attorney, Greg Ozhekim of Nemecek & Cole, referred calls for comment to AIMCO spokesperson Patti Shwayder, who could not be reached.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company