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LA is mulling new rules to prevent the demolition of rent-controlled apartments

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Tenant activists say stricter measures are needed

Rooftops of apartments
More than 1,370 rent controlled units were demolished across Los Angeles in 2016.

As Los Angeles rents keep surging upward and the number of homeless residents climbs higher, city officials are considering new policies that would make it harder for landlords to demolish rent-controlled properties.

On Wednesday, the city council’s Housing Committee received a report from the planning department recommending the addition of a “penalty of perjury” clause to forms required for demolition, giving the city the ability to punish developers who mislead planners about the project’s compliance with the rent stabilization ordinance.

Tenant advocates have long complained that, under current rules, landlords can easily dodge the terms of LA’s rent control laws, whether by changing the scope of a project after tenants have already been evicted or by demolishing properties before potential violations can be investigated.

The planning department also recommended updating the review process for projects that require demolition permits, allowing for better coordination among different city departments and ensuring that properties are only razed once a developer has entitlements to begin construction on new housing. That way, the loss of demolished units affects the city’s overall housing stock for as short a time as possible.

But activists and community members at the meeting Wednesday argued these proposals didn’t go far enough to prevent evictions under California’s Ellis Act, which allows landlords to mass-evict tenants when demolishing buildings or leaving the rental business. Last year, more than 1,370 rent-controlled units were taken off the market through Ellis Act evictions.

Jennifer Ganata, a land use advocate with Inner City Law Center, told the committee that a cap or moratorium on Ellis Act evictions was necessary to preserve the city’s affordable housing stock. She also argued for a tax on vacant units that would encourage landlords to more proactively seek out new tenants.

To do that, the city would first need to establish a new system for tracking vacancies. On Wednesday, planning department staff told the city they were reviewing options, since the old system relied on Los Angeles Department of Water and Power data that’s no longer available.

In May, Councilmember Paul Koretz proposed a new rule blocking condo conversions if the vacancy rate has not been updated within the last year. His motion came amid an appeal from tenants over a condo conversion in Beverly Grove approved using vacancy rate numbers the appellants claimed were out of date. (Under current rules, the vacancy rate in the project area must be over 5 percent before condo conversions are allowed.)

On Wednesday, planner Claire Bowin told the committee that, based on the most recent Census data available, all but two neighborhoods in Los Angeles have a vacancy rate below 5 percent.