Robert Lawrence woke up on May 8 and found an eviction notice plastered on the door of the rent-stabilized apartment he has lived in since 2021.
“120 DAY NOTICE OF TERMINATION OF TENANCY,” it said.
Owners of the Barrington Plaza said it would evict all residents in the 712-unit complex in West Los Angeles so that it could add fire sprinklers and safety upgrades following two significant fires in 10 years.
Lawrence and many of his neighbors in the complex jumped into organizing to stop what would be one of the largest evictions in the city in years.
On Monday, the Barrington Plaza Tenants Assn. sued the complex’s owner, Douglas Emmett Inc., accusing the company of misusing a California law that allows landlords to evict tenants if they exit the rental market. Lawyers and advocates involved in the case warn that if the owners follow through with the eviction of over 500 tenants, landlords of other affordable apartments may do the same — and have in the past.
“It’s a devastating joke for a lot of people who have managed to strike gold with being able to get an affordable home in Los Angeles,” said Nima Farahani, a lawyer representing the Barrington Plaza Tenants Assn.
The Ellis Act was created in 1985 to enable landlords to exit the rental business, often to convert apartments into condominiums. Landlords in Los Angeles have evicted tenants using the Ellis Act from over 28,000 units since 2001, according to data gathered from the city Housing Department by the Coalition for Economic Survival, a grassroots policy organization involved in the lawsuit.
“They don’t need to make this many people homeless for an updating project,” Farahani said, noting the building has over 150 vacant units.
Eric Rose, a public relations representative for Douglas Emmett, said Barrington Plaza’s owner is unsure how it will use the apartments after renovations.
“To the extent that the units were brought back onto the rental market, the owner would follow all obligations relative to former tenants as provided in those state and local rules,” Rose said in an email to the L.A. Times.
Landlords must compensate tenants if they rent out an apartment after two years of evicting residents with the Ellis Act, but their liability decreases with time.
Lawrence works in entertainment and described his fellow residents — including hairdressers, dog walkers, waiters and an Uber driver — as people who “work in service industries for our more affluent neighbors.”
Advocates like Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, say that Douglas Emmett will likely reopen the units after renovation and jack up rents. Gross said this will open the “floodgates” for other landlords to follow suit.
“If we do not prevail, this literally puts a bull’s-eye on the back of every rent-controlled tenant in the city and state, who now will be vulnerable to landlords like this filing bogus Ellis evictions to get them out to raise rent,” Gross said.
Gross notes that Douglas Emmett donated $50,000 to fight Measure ULA, the so-called mansion tax, which voters ultimately passed and generates funding for affordable housing and homeless prevention.
In the coming weeks, Farahani said that lawyers plan to ask the court to stop all evictions until the lawsuit is resolved.
On the day of the eviction announcement, tenants found what Lawrence called the “iconic” Barrington Plaza sign painted over in black.
“It felt like we’d been erased,” Lawrence said.
This story originally appeared on LA Times