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Sober-living facility files discrimination suit against West Hollywood

KLEAN and the landlords of the nine apartments it occupies respond to a city suit that says the property's owners are violating an agreement to maintain rent-controlled residential units.

November 14, 2010|By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times

A high-end sober-living home has filed suit against West Hollywood, alleging that the city's attempts to get its clients evicted from nine apartments discriminate against recovering drug and alcohol users.

In a complaint filed late last month in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, KLEAN West Hollywood and its landlords said the city's actions violate the Americans With Disabilities Act, along with federal and state fair housing laws and provisions of the U.S. and state constitutions.

The suit was filed Oct. 28, three months after the city, which is known for defending the rights of renters, sued the property's owners for violating an agreement to maintain the apartments as rent-controlled residential units.

A hearing is scheduled Monday in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Santa Monica to consider the city's request for an injunction preventing the owners from allowing the units to be used for short-term stays, which it says are not permitted under its rent stabilization and zoning ordinances.

Andrew Spanswick, KLEAN's chief executive, said last week that "the city needs to get its priorities straight."

"Resources that have been spent filing frivolous lawsuits could be much better spent addressing the rampant drug problem in West Hollywood," Spanswick said in a statement Friday.

KLEAN plans to set aside 10% of its beds to provide needed care at no charge for West Hollywood residents, Spanswick said in an e-mail.

City officials contend that the discrimination suit filed by the home's operator and landlords is motivated by profit rather than by a desire to protect disabled people.

"We are not a city that discriminates," said City Atty. Mike Jenkins. "They have found a way to make a lot of money, and all of this other nonsense — this highfalutin talk about principle and about discrimination — it's just a pretext."

The burgeoning business of luxury rehabilitation has caused friction in a number of California cities, where residents fear such facilities will lead to declining property values, more crime and congestion.

KLEAN West Hollywood, on a leafy block of Hilldale Avenue, has been locked in disputes with city officials and some of its neighbors since it opened last year with plans to become a rehab center.

"I have no objection to it remaining a sober-living place," said Norma Sandler, who has lived in a nearby apartment for more than 30 years. "But they don't want to do that. They want to go full-steam ahead and bring all the addicts in."

KLEAN's attorney, Harry Nelson, accused the city in the statement of trying "to appease the NIMBY sentiments of a very small group" of residents.

Spanswick said 14 recovering addicts are living in the apartments, which are being run as a 24-bed sober-living home with sleek furnishings, flat-screen TVs and modern art on the walls.

Although KLEAN executives eventually hope to fill 27 beds, they argue that the location should be considered a residential property because no more than four people will occupy each apartment. Each will have its own address. According to state law, sober-living homes and licensed treatment centers that do not accommodate more than six people are to be treated as single-family residences.

KLEAN has applied to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs for licenses to operate seven treatment facilities at the site. Clients would be charged about $30,000 a month for programs that typically last two months, according to court documents.

Jenkins said West Hollywood has a critical shortage of affordable housing, and the units occupied by KLEAN were supposed to be leased as rent-controlled, permanent residences.

Several years ago, the city learned that the previous owners were using the apartments as an extension of the adjacent San Vicente Inn and threatened to take them to court.

The property's new owners settled the dispute in August 2007 by agreeing to restore the apartments to their original purpose, Jenkins said.

"Now KLEAN is not a person who is residing in the unit and making it their home," he said. "KLEAN is a for-profit business."

KLEAN's clients, he said, check into the facility as part of a recovery program.

"It isn't becoming their home," he said.

An attorney representing the owners, identified in court documents as 852 Hilldale LLC, 850 San Vicente LLC and 845 San Vicente LLC, did not return calls seeking comment.

According to city court filings, about 80% of West Hollywood residents are renters. There are 16,576 units covered by the city's rent stabilization ordinance. The city has lost 452 residential units since 1988, most of them to new development. Another building with 32 units is being phased out of the residential rental market.

alexandra.zavis@latimes.com

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