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‘Coliving’ comes to bungalow courts

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What will happen to rent control?

Tara Stephenson pictured at Node’s property on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park.
By Jenna Chandler

Another communal living company is opening in Los Angeles, and it’s capitalizing on one of the region’s most celebrated housing types: the bungalow court.

Node, which started in Brooklyn before branching out to Dublin, and now Los Angeles, has purchased and remodeled two bungalow courts in Echo Park.

“We’re all about kind of eliminating isolation through community in places where you see a lot of loneliness,” says Max Pattar, Node’s business development consultant.

That’s the philosophy commonly espoused by “coliving” companies, which operate kind of like college dorms (though they tend to hate that word), with planned events, shared living areas, and separate bedrooms. But at Node in Echo Park, most residents will get their own individual one-bedroom bungalows with their own bedrooms, bathrooms, patios, and living spaces; two bungalows have two bedrooms and can be shared with a roommate.

Bungalow courts were originally designed to blend private and public living spaces. Multiple small cottages arranged around a central courtyard, usually a walkway or garden, encourage neighbors to spend time together but give everyone a bit of solitude as well.

Although they were a common form of multifamily housing in Los Angeles from 1910 to 1930, bungalow courts can no longer be built from the ground up due to city parking minimums. And because of their age, many courts, including the two properties acquired by Node, are rent-controlled.

Those two factors have been deterrents for owners to revive bungalow courts that have degraded over the past century. Under the city’s rent stabilization ordinance, annual rent increases are capped by the city (it’s 3 percent this year).

Node bungalows come fully furnished.
“Art-wise and design-wise, we are an expression of Echo Park,” says Pattar.
Courtesy of Node

Node is prolonging the lives of these bungalow courts, but it might also be taking affordable units away from the community by turning them into pricier short-term rentals. Its fully furnished bungalows are available for rent for $3,000 per month.

Tara Stephenson, who runs events for Node, says the company prefers 12-month leases, but shorter leases are available. If there’s a lot of turnover, prices won’t be kept low. Property owners are allowed to reset prices to market rate every time a new lease is signed.

“With short-term rentals in [rent-stabilized] units, landlords can raise prices when a tenant vacates the unit, essentially nullifying the long-term RSO protections for renters,” says Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin.

On Friday, he introduced a motion asking city staffers to draft an ordinance that would require 12-month minimum lease in rent-controlled buildings.

“Los Angeles cannot wait for action to protect needed RSO housing units in Los Angeles,” he wrote in the motion.

According to Bonin, since 2001, property owners have filed applications with the city to remove more than 25,000 rent-controlled units from the market. Even when rent-controlled units remain on the market, they’re increasingly at risk of not being affordable. Landlords are finding creative ways to raise rents, even for rent-controlled properties.

At the newly renovated Villa Carlotta, an ornate, historic rent-controlled apartment building in Hollywood’s Franklin Village, rent-controlled rates can reset every time a new lease is signed. Studios in the building are now available for stays of 30 days or more, with rates from $6,700 for a two-month stay. (Before Villa Carlotta was remodeled, some of the apartments rented for as low as $859 per month).

A spokesperson says both of Node’s Echo Park bungalow properties were vacant when the company acquired them, and the company “undertook a two-year historical restoration of the units” to “keep them from going extinct.” According to the city’s housing department, there’s only record of one buy-out agreement at both addresses (under city law, landlords can “buy out” tenants at rent-controlled properties by offering them money to vacate, but they must register those agreements with the city).

On a recent tour of Node’s property on Sunset Boulevard, Pattar and Stephenson said the company’s founder decided to expand west because he loves Los Angeles.

“When we pick our neighborhoods, we try to pick ones with authenticity, that have some edginess,” says Pattar. “We like to be in up-and-coming neighborhoods, neighborhoods with mom and pop coffee shops, not Starbucks everywhere.”

They both said they’re curious to see what types of tenants end up moving in, wondering out loud if the units might be attractive to transplants from New York. Node’s other locations have lured freelancers, students, and tech workers.

Asked about what impact Node might have on the community, they said they believe Node will do more good than harm for Echo Park. They said the company will organize events, dinners, and local partnerships that support local businesses.

Stephenson said she’s interested in finding ways to encourage Node tenants to get involved with nonprofit work and to give back to the neighborhood in ways that are more meaningful than “buying a beer” at a local bar.

“We’re so connected to the local market,” says Pattar. “We try to blend into the neighborhood.”