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Lincoln Place in Jeopardy Once Again: disabled, elderly residents served with papers

Remember that movie, The Never-Ending Story? I’ve been with the Mirror since it debuted in 1999. There’ve been a few core stories in the last 5 years, stories that have come to somehow represent the part of the world we cover as much as they exist on their own. The long saga of Lincoln Place Apartment complex — its history, its tumultuous present and how that present will affect its future, or whether it has a future at all – has filled columns of this newspaper more times than I can count.

In some ways, it’s a basic landlord vs. tenants story; one of those David and Goliath sagas in which where Goliath will likely win in the long run. But over the years, it’s become extremely complicated. As both a writer and editor, I’ve noticed this more and more. The entire Lincoln Place story can’t be done justice in just one piece. There are just too many pieces to it.

So this story will not cover the fact that this week AIMCO, the owner of Lincoln Place, is once again attempting to postpone a State of California hearing on whether the apartment complex is an historic site. Or that a tenant has just applied for another historic designation — in the City of Los Angeles. Or that lawyers for the Lincoln Place Tenants Association believe that AIMCO can not use the Ellis Act to evict its tenants because it is not actually going out of the rental business at all. No I won’t be covering those stories in this piece. But speaking of the Ellis Act…

The Ellis Act, which allows California apartment owners to evict tenants if they plan to “get out of the rental business,” has vastly changed the Southern California housing landscape in the years since in went into effect in 1986.

Though Ellis was seen by at least some legislators of the time as a means for small building owners – mom and pop landlords – to leave the rental business without the lengthy and costly legal battles that often accompanied any such move, it quickly became a handy tool for large property owners and developers as well. Mass evictions of entire apartment complexes, once fairly rare due to regulations protecting renters, are now commonplace, and renters are finding that their options are few. This is nowhere more true than at Lincoln Place.

For a variety of reasons which have been covered at length in this newspaper, Lincoln Place, a large complex of mid-20th century two-story courtyard buildings surrounded by lush tropical landscaping, has served as an example of how Ellis can take down a community – and maybe even demolish 52 historically significant examples of the post-WWII Southern California garden apartment.

Tenants given notices to quit in Ellis situations have 120 days (4 months) before eviction. Under Ellis, senior citizens and disabled residents are allowed a period of 365 days, or one year, before they must evacuate their apartments.

On March 18, 2005, AIMCO finally did what tenants of the eight square blocks of garden apartments had been dreading (and successfully fighting, through a series of owners) for years, and distributed eviction notices to over 700 tenants of the complex, “based on the Ellis Act, a landlord’s decision to go out of the rental business,” according to a company statement made at the time.

Four tense months passed, in which AIMCO hired a new property manager, offered hefty relocation packages to tenants who chose to move out of the complex as soon as possible, while the Lincoln Place Tenants Association (LPTA) filed a variety of lawsuits and appeals of earlier lawsuits in order to prevent both the evictions as well as the eventual demolition of the apartment complex itself.

Then, last week, came the 120th day. All tenants who hadn’t left Lincoln Place were served with unlawful detainer notices by AIMCO, including, say LPTA leaders, dozens of elderly and disabled tenants – who should have another 245 days in which to find alternative housing. (Repeated calls for comment to AIMCO were not returned by press time.)

Longtime Lincoln Place resident, Laura Burns, an LPTA member, told the Mirror that the remaining tenants now have five days to respond to AIMCO’s filing, which most are in the process of doing.

“Then there will be a hearing, and then a trial date will be set,” she said, stating that several tenants had come to LPTA for help, after attempting to prove their age or disability status with AIMCO, only to have the company repeatedly dispute their claims. “And there’s nothing in the law that even says they can dispute whether someone is disabled,” Burns said, adding, “This is harassment… they get the people to leave out of fear, then what’s the difference? They’re gone!”

According to LPTA leadership, only eight tenants were “acknowledged” by AIMCO as being either disabled or meeting the age requirements for additional time from the period of March through July of 2005.

A primary concern of the Tenants Association is that after the current round of evictions the only residents left at Lincoln Place will be elderly and disabled people, who will be vulnerable to crime, as well as at-risk of injury or other safety issues, as a result of living in a mostly vacant apartment complex.

“An 81-year-old woman fell down the stairs in her building [recently], and she couldn’t get up,” explained Burns, “If it weren’t for a fellow tenant who was able to help her, she could have died there.” What will happen, the Association members question, when vulnerable residents are left to live, sometimes one to a building, in a sprawling complex with neighbors few and far between?

Newly elected Los Angeles City Council person for the 11th district, Bill Rosendahl, ran in part on a platform that included protection of both affordable housing and buildings of historic significance in his district. During his campaign, he specifically supported the LPTA in its quest to preserve Lincoln Place – on both fronts.

LPTA considers Rosendahl a strong ally, and when contacted by the Mirror, Rosendahl stated at the beginning of the conversation, “I have been in contact with the tenants group regularly, where they have brought to me any questionable actions that might have occurred [on the part of AIMCO]”

He went on to say that he had no knowledge of disabled or elderly residents being in danger of eviction, nor did members of his staff. Rosendahl did say that he had a meeting scheduled “to get an update on the current situation” from LPTA, and that if, “There’s any question of an Ellis violation by AIMCO I will work to resolve it [for] my constituents.”

Rosendahl has already met “informally” with AIMCO representatives, and plans to have what he calls a “substantive discussion” with them after meeting with LPTA leaders this week. “My hope is that I can use my good offices to bring parties together, to see if we can find common ground.”

After well over a decade of standing up against developers bent on demolishing their apartments and crushing not only their living spaces, but what they consider their community (LPTA even offered to buy Lincoln Place and turn it into a tenant-owned co-op) the tenants association does not seem in the mood to find common ground with the housing giant. AIMCO, in its final push, isn’t even talking anymore – at least not to reporters. Working together with LPTA has got to be the last thing on company reps’ minds.Rosendahl must be a big thinker – and an ambitious dreamer – which may be just what’s needed for the Lincoln Place story to continue.

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