Westside tenants tackle one of LA’s biggest mass evictions in years
Librarian Miki Goral has lived in the sprawling Westside Barrington Plaza residential complex for more than three decades. She swims in the large heated pool most days, and from her one-bedroom apartment on the 10th floor, she has ocean views. The building is a 15-minute bus ride from his job at UCLA and is rent-controlled, allowing him to maintain some certainty about housing costs even as rents in the neighborhood have skyrocketed.
Like many longtime tenants of the place, Goral had planned to stay for many more years.
This month, she learned that she and each of the residents of the complex’s 577 occupied units were being evicted so landlords could install fire sprinklers and other safety upgrades. Most were given four months to leave, although Goral and others aged at least 62 or disabled could take up to a year. But Goral does not imagine leaving.
“I don’t want to move,” she said. “I have been here for 34 years. It’s my house.
Three months after the end of pandemic-era protections limiting landlords’ ability to evict tenants, the owner of Barrington Plaza launched one of the largest mass evictions in Los Angeles in years, pushing hundreds of Westside tenants out of their homes just as the city was in the grip of a housing crisis.
Owner Douglas Emmett Inc. says the move is necessary to install sprinklers and other safety equipment at a complex with a history of dangerous fires. He invoked the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict rent-stabilized tenants to remove units from the rental market.
Some tenants are already moving out, facing a significant rent hike and the potential cruel irony that their own evictions – hundreds of Barrington residents thrown onto the market at once – could drive prices up even further.
But Goral and others believe the company is misapplying the law and can make security improvements without permanently displacing them. They say they will fight to stay.
“In a time when we are facing homelessness across the city and county, it is a major issue that this company is suddenly putting nearly 600 people on the housing market to compete for housing,” Goral said. . “It’s not a sensible thing to do.”
Housing officials say the city has little leeway once a landlord says they are taking a property off the rental market under the Ellis Act, but work to help residents move out. City rules require landlords to pay tenants relocation assistance, amounts ranging from about $9,000 to about $23,000, depending on how long they have lived in the apartment, their age, their income and other factors.
“The impact of this is profound,” said Greg Good, senior policy and external affairs adviser for the Los Angeles Department of Housing. “There’s no getting around it. It’s 577 units, and it will create significant disruption.
When it opened in 1962, Barrington Plaza was celebrated as the tallest residential complex west of Chicago and the largest urban renewal project ever undertaken by the Federal Housing Administration. There were extensive gardens, a 9-hole green and a unique intercom system that allowed residents to dial two digits to call housekeepers, caretakers and caterers.
Over the decades, the apartments have changed owners several times and the residents would increase repeated security concerns about the complex, which was exempt from laws requiring fire sprinklers due to the date of its construction.
On New Year’s Day 1971, a Christmas tree caught fire, forcing the building to be evacuated and the elevators to be out of service for several days. In 2013, another fire injured several people, including a toddler, and displaced residents of dozens of units. And in January 2020, another fire left a 19-year-old exchange student dead and several injured. News reports featured footage of a man hanging outside the multi-storey building as he tried to escape the blaze.
After that fire, eight floors of the complex’s tallest building were marked red and have remained vacant ever since.
Eric Rose, a public relations manager working for Douglas Emmett, said in written responses to questions that when the company submitted plans to rebuild the damaged floors, the city conditioned its approval on the installation of sprinklers and other safety equipment in the three towers of Barrington Plaza.
These changes cannot be made without leaving the three towers at the same time, Rose said, because building systems are shared between them and “structural changes, including changes to ceilings and walls, must be made in order to support the weight of the sprinkler system.”
This month, the company informed the city that it would take the complex off the rental market under the Ellis Act, a 1985 state law that allows landlords to evict tenants of rent-stabilized apartments. if they take the building off the rental market, for example, to convert the units into condos.
Under city rules, landlords invoking the Ellis Act must seek “in good faith” to remove it “permanently from use of rental units.”
Tenants and advocates say they believe the long-term plan is to rent the apartments again. Because of this, they say, evictions would be a misuse of the law.
“They want to renovate it. And they clearly want to re-let it, and that’s not the purpose of the Ellis Act,” said tenant rights advocate Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival.
He said the company should have used the city’s tenant habitability program, under which landlords carrying out major renovations can temporarily relocate residents to comparable units until the work is complete.
Rose says the Tenant Habitability Program is typically used for renovations that last days or months, not years.
“At this time, the owners of Barrington Plaza are removing the units from the market and have options as to how these units will change, be rehabilitated with new life safety measures or become something different,” said Pink.
He suggested that apartments could eventually return to the rental market under rules set by the city.
Any rehabilitation of the complex will take years, he said, and “after that time, if the units were put back on the rental market, the landlord would follow the obligations for former tenants as set out in these state and local rules.” .
There are no plans to build new condominiums on the site, Rose said.
Residents struggle to understand the lack of clarity about the future of the building.
Lawyer Nima Farahani, who has run legal clinics and met with several of Barrington’s tenants, said under the Ellis Act, “if you can’t really, in good faith, be a landlord, you can stop renting. being owner”.
But, he says, “you have to get out of the rental business. End of the story.”
Under the law, if within two years a landlord rents an apartment vacated under the Ellis Act, they may be liable to former tenants for damages.
But after that, the consequences are less serious. If they rent within five years of evictions, they must offer tenants a right to return with the same rent they were paying when they were evicted, plus certain approved increases.
If the company rents again between 5 and 10 years, it must offer a right of return but can charge market rent.
Proponents say that after two years most residents will have resettled and are unlikely to return.
Residents have formed a tenant association, and many are preparing to fight eviction. Some see it as part of a larger effort to protect affordable housing in Los Angeles.
The majority of the building’s tenants — which include a mix of retirees, white-collar workers and students — have moved into the building in recent years. But more than 100 residents have lived in the plaza for 5 years or more, according to city records. The median length of residence for these long-term tenants was 12 years. Some have lived in the square since the 1960s.
But even among those who moved in more recently, there are residents who don’t want to go. Many say they chose the building because it was rent-stabilized and it would be nearly impossible to find something similar.
Jacqui Fournier, 56, moved into Barrington Plaza during the pandemic, in August 2020. She’s paying $1,595 for a 10th-floor studio, a rate she says was lower than it might have been in normal circumstances.
“We want to stay in our homes,” she said. “We can’t get an apartment on the Westside that compares to what we’re paying now.”
The going rate for a studio near Barrington Plaza is about $2,600, said Ryan Patap, senior director of market analysis at CoStar, which tracks real estate data.
The median rent paid by tenants in Barrington is $2,295, according to city data. This amount includes studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.
Patap said it’s possible the large-scale evictions themselves could result in moderate rent increases in the surrounding neighborhood.
“This number of tenants would probably drive up rents. But to what extent is difficult to quantify,” he said.
At the same time, it’s likely that many renters won’t be able to stay in the neighborhood at all because they won’t be able to afford it, he said.
Chuck Martinez, a driver for Uber Eats, moved into Barrington Plaza in 2021. He knew it was the right place when he learned the rent had stabilized.
“I thought, ‘I’m going to need this,'” he said. “Looking back, I was glad I made that decision because now we are dealing with inflation. The price of everything has gone up.”
He pays $1,850 a month for his studio on the 12th floor. From the windows surrounding the corner unit, he can see the Griffith Observatory and the Getty Center on a clear day.
“It’s a million dollar view for $1,850,” he said.
Over the past two weeks, when he’s not working, he’s met with other tenants, attorneys, and attorneys, trying to figure out if there’s a way for him and others to avoid leaving.
“I’m trying to avoid losing my rent-stabilized apartment,” he said. “It’s the only way to try to keep something livable.”
Los Angeles Times