A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has rejected an attempt by the West Hollywood city attorney's office to temporarily prevent 30 landlords from selling off more than 600 apartment units as condominiums.
Despite Judge Warren H. Deering's refusal last Thursday to grant the city's request for a temporary restraining order, City Atty. Michael Jenkins said the city will continue its effort to require the landlords to obtain conditional-use permits to sell their 642 rental units. A hearing has been set for Jan. 16.
"It's unfortunate that our position on the temporary restraining order did not prevail, but we will pursue the matter," Jenkins said.
The city moved quickly against the landlords last week to forestall what officials fear is a growing wave of condominium conversions. Dan Cohen, city housing manager, said owners of several apartment buildings already have begun eviction proceedings and at least 15 tenants have been forced from their residences.
'Issue Is Displacement'
"The issue is displacement," Cohen said. "We are facing the real possibility that the city (which contains nearly 20,000 rental units) could lose almost 4% of its housing stock."
Cohen and other city officials said the 30 landlords have been emboldened by a more lucrative condominium market and the recent passage of the Ellis Act, a state law that allows landlords to evict their tenants for the purpose of going out of business.
One of the landlords, Grafton Tanquary, said the 30 apartment owners are chafing under the restrictions of West Hollywood's tough rent control law and fear even stricter provisions because of the recent City Council election of tenant advocate Abbe Land.
Tanquary denied that any of the owners have been rushing to evict tenants. "Certainly, we don't see any reason to remain in the apartment business, but I know that many of us haven't started to sell yet," he said. "Now that the city has dropped this on us out of the blue, though, I'm giving the idea of selling a lot more serious thought."
According to Tanquary, many landlords would be interested in selling their apartments as condominiums to escape West Hollywood's rent control law, but are prevented by a condominium conversion ordinance passed last August that requires that they first get a conditional-use permit from the city Planning Commission.
However, Tanquary and the other 29 landlords who were sued last week by the city are in a different category from other apartment owners. Before West Hollywood's incorporation in 1984, the 30 apartment owners had permission from the county and state to convert their apartments to condominiums.
Tanquary, who has been a leader of the apartment owners, said the city is trying to negate the earlier county and state approval by requiring the conditional-use permits before apartments can be sold.
"The city's trying to find a means of stopping any sale of any condominium and they know damned well this is against every law in the state," Tanquary said.
But Cohen and Jenkins said the city only acted after gathering evidence that the landlords were trying to use the Ellis Act to evict tenants and sell off their apartments as condominiums.
"Since the Ellis Act went into effect (July 1), some 250 units in West Hollywood have filed for the right to evict tenants," Cohen said. "Many of those units are the same ones we took to court last week."
Cohen said the city's Rent Stabilization and Community Development departments have received dozens of telephone calls from landlords interested in applying under the Ellis Act and tenants complaining about sudden eviction notices. "Many of these tenants are seniors," Cohen said. "Where do they go if they lose their homes?"
City officials said they were alarmed when they determined how many landlords received county and state permission to convert their apartments and how many units were involved. "When we saw the considerable numbers involved, we decided we had to act," Cohen said.
Last week's action, Jenkins said, was based on legal precedent and the notion that the city has the power to regulate zoning no matter what approvals have been granted.
"Just because someone gets a subdivision approved five years ago doesn't give them blanket approval later on," he said. "This is a new city with different concerns than the county and state may have had then. They (the landlords) are not simply exempted from our ordinances."
Stephen Jones, a Santa Monica attorney who represented Tanquary and two other landlords, insisted that West Hollywood did not have the right to void those earlier approvals. In a similar case, Jones said, the California Supreme Court has upheld the right of landlords to rely on earlier state and county rulings when a new city law prevents them from converting their rental units to condominiums.
"The courts have already ruled that you can't lose the right to sell your building if you have permission already granted by the state or county," Jones said.