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Rent-Controlled Tenants Were Evicted, Then Found Their Apartments on Airbnb

Los Angeles housing advocates have long warned that short-term rental sites like Airbnb are taking rent-controlled apartments off the market and turning them into full-time, tourist-oriented short-term lodging (usually for significantly more than tenants were paying for them), which is only exacerbating an already depressing affordable housing crunch in the city. That's what happened to two tenants who were kicked out of their rent-controlled apartments in Fairfax; just a few weeks after they were evicted from their homes via the Ellis Act—which allows mass evictions if the landlord is getting out of the rental business—they found their apartments listed on Airbnb, and so they've decided to sue their landlord and Airbnb, according to a press release from advocacy organization Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy.

The tenants, who had been paying rents under $2,000 for two-bedroom apartments in a four-unit complex, were evicted towards the end of 2013, reports the LA Times. Their landlord used the Ellis Act, the state law that allows landlords to boot all of their rent-controlled tenants, either because they want to stop being landlords for good, or because they intend to raze their buildings to put up new apartments or condos; they can also choose to keep their buildings empty for five years. Ellis is credited with the hypergentrification that has swept San Francisco in the past decade, and its use in Los Angeles has skyrocketed since the recession.

But these tenants' landlord didn't follow the law, the lawsuit alleges. Instead, the property owner waited just a few weeks before popping the apartments on Airbnb with per-night rates that would add up to $15,000 a month. The tenants are suing for "damages and an injunction to return apartment units to tenants under previous rates." The civil suit charges that "landlords evade the city's rent-control regulations and unfairly cash in on higher nightly rates" by switching from long-term to short-term rentals. The potentially precedent-setting case is the first time tenants have sued their landlord for evicting them under the Ellis Act and then converting their apartments to short-term rentals.

Ellis Act evictions doubled in Los Angeles last year, with one instructive case still underway at Hollywood's historic Villa Carlotta building. The LA City Council's Housing Committee has been considering possible ways to keep the city's dwindling supply of affordable housing intact, including "an annual cap on demolitions of rent-controlled buildings and withholding demolition permits until other permits for new construction have been issued." Meanwhile, LA's still hashing out their rules for sites like Airbnb and short-term rentals in general, which are in fact illegal in most neighborhoods.
· Ousted tenants sue after their former rent-controlled L.A. apartments are listed on Airbnb [LAT]
· The Nine Neighborhoods That Make All the Airbnb Money in LA [Curbed LA]
· Short-Term Rentals Are Taking 11 Units Off the LA Rental Market Every Day [Curbed LA]
· Mass Rent-Control Evictions Doubled in Los Angeles Last Year [Curbed LA]