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Evicted Tenant Also Has Some Rights

March 20, 1986|DON G. CAMPBELL | Times Staff Writer

Question: Could you tell me whether what is happening to me is legal? I am one of five tenants occupying an apartment complex in Highland Park that is under Los Angeles City rent control. Here is a letter that I just received from a Pasadena branch of the Bank of America:

"Dear Resident:

"Please be advised that the above-referenced property has been sold and this letter will serve as your notice to vacate the property by March 15, 1986. Your cooperation will be appreciated.

"Sincerely . . . ."

No Reason Given

You will notice that no reason for the eviction is given. And I should point out that the letter is dated Feb. 28 and that, by the time I actually received it the following week, it gave me less than two weeks to get out. I've also discovered from the bank that the new "owner," as of Friday, March 7, still wasn't out of escrow yet, and so, at that time, wasn't even the legal owner of the property. The former owner died about two years ago, and the house has been in probate administered by Bank of America on behalf of the heirs. We had been sending our checks to the deceased owner c/o B of A, and all of us, of course, had already paid our March rent before we even got the letter. It seems to me that less than two weeks' eviction notice--without cause--wouldn't even be legal if the property weren't under rent control.--M.Z.

Answer: The insensitive part of the whole thing, of course, is not merely being evicted but being evicted as "Resident" (or "Occupant," for that matter). Is this the way you've been signing your rent checks?

Ironically, however, things are frequently not as they seem, and your situation is a case in point. On the surface, there is absolutely nothing justifying your eviction without cause--particularly under rent control and particularly with less than two weeks' notice.

According to Barbara Bonino of the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Board, the simple transfer of ownership isn't enough to warrant eviction or even a rent increase, unless the terms of the agreement between landlord and tenant are unusual--such as the day-to-day agreement implied in the occupancy of a hotel room. Most standard rentals, however, are either through a lease or, in the absence of a lease, on a month-by-month basis, which, under rent control, still requires something more than mere whim as the rationale for eviction.

Eviction is always possible, of course, and the standard justifications, Bonino adds, are the obvious ones: non-payment of rent, use of the premises for some illegal purpose, violation of some provision of the existing lease or refusal to grant the landlord access to the property for some legitimate purpose.

'No Fault' Clauses

At the same time, she continues, there are a handful of "no fault" causes for eviction by the landlord--a major renovation of the property (no, repainting the place doesn't so classify) or, more commonly, the desire on the part of the landlord to use the property either for his own occupancy or for the occupancy of members of his immediate family. And a declaration of this intent has to be filed with the city's Rent Stabilization Board. But, in your case, how can a five-unit apartment building be used as a single-family residence?

As we said, the suspicion existed that there is more here than meets the eye. And, according to Donald E. Miner, senior property management officer in B of A's Pasadena office, there is.

Condition of the Sale

In the first place, according to Miner, the bank did become the legal owner of the property on the owner's death and, as the title-holding owner, could properly evict, even though it is in the process of resale to a new buyer, and the eviction is a condition of the sale. The rationale for the eviction? Because the new owner, sure enough, wants to convert the property to a single-family residence for his own use.

"This is a large, two-story house, which, with a gardener's cottage on the same property, the previous owner had cut up into apartments years ago," Miner said. "They never really were adequate as apartments, though, and so the new owner is simply converting it back to a single-family residence."

The eviction letter, Miner admits, went out in error. It was supposed to have gone out in mid-February but, somehow, got shuffled under other paper work and didn't go out until the 28th without any change in the wording of the letter.

"It was supposed to give them 30 days' notice," he adds, "and so a new one is now in the works, which will give the tenants until mid-April to get out.

"Actually, the gentleman (M.Z.) who wrote you the letter is moving out, anyway. We sold him a house across the street, which was a part of the same estate, and," Miner continues, "another of the tenants is a beneficiary of the previous owner's will, and we're helping him to relocate too."

However, it turns out that there's more to this business of "helping a client to relocate" than--again--meets the eye, according to Rent Stabilization's Bonino.

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