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LA is considering tougher rules regulating rent control evictions

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City officials want to rein in evictions under California’s Ellis Act

Residential street with apartment buildings at night in Los Angeles.
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As the number of Los Angeles residents evicted from rent-controlled units continues to climb, city officials are contemplating new ways to protect tenants and hold landlords accountable to laws governing units protected under the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

The City Council’s Housing Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a preliminary ordinance tightening restrictions on how and when landlords can evict tenants under California’s Ellis Act. The controversial law, passed in 1985, allows building owners to mass-evict all the occupants if the units are being removed from the rental market.

Anne Ortega, who heads the Rent Stabilization Division of the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department, told the committee that the department received more than 300 Ellis Act applications in 2016, resulting in the removal of around 1,400 rent-controlled units from the market.

The loss of these units has an effect on the cost of housing citywide, and the proposed new rules include a provision requiring that developers replace rent-controlled units with affordable housing in projects built following the demolition of buildings vacated under the Ellis Act.

Under the regulations, landlords would also have to pay for the relocation of all evicted tenants and file annual reports with the city on the status of units withdrawn from the rental market.

Tenants rights advocates in attendance at the meeting praised the new requirements, but questioned whether they could be properly enforced. One speaker, a member of the LA Tenants Union, told the committee she had been evicted under the Ellis Act only to find her unit listed on Airbnb.

Anecdotal reports of similar violations of the law have become relatively common, but as Ortega told the committee, prosecutions are rare and conclusive evidence of landlord infractions can be hard to find.

In addition to approving the proposed ordinance, the committee also asked the City Attorney to work with HCID and the Department of City Planning on strategies for improving enforcement of Ellis Act violations.

“This is a crime that we have that is almost never [prosecuted] in LA,” Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson said. “The onus is upon us to decide what kind of city we want to live in and to decide what kind of laws we’re going to enforce and what kind of laws we’re not going to enforce.”