In the clearest and most compelling court decision to be handed down in the over 15-year history of the Lincoln Place legal saga, further evictions have been enjoined, and the City of Los Angeles has been directed to enforce the landlord’s 1995 promise that no “existing tenant would be involuntarily displaced from the site.”
The September 19 decision of the California Court of Appeal comes at a time when only 13 of the original 795 apartments are still occupied, and the 38-acre garden-style complex built in Venice in 1949-51 has been reduced to a tawdry ghost town. Several of the 52 separate apartment buildings were demolished by the landlord in 2003 (which demolition has been found unlawful), and most of the approximately 40 remaining buildings are completely vacant.
It is not immediately clear what effect last week’s 29-page decision (certified for publication) will have on the hundreds of tenants that have been evicted or otherwise forced out of the complex over the years by the efforts of successive landlords to tear down the post-war apartments and replace them with a higher density condominium development.
Although the Lincoln Place saga has involved multiple lawsuits over many years, the case in question was filed in June 2006 by the Lincoln Place Tenants Association and tenant Ingrid Mueller against current owner AIMCO Venezia LLC and the City of Los Angeles to compel the City to enforce certain tenant protections that were adopted as “mitigation measures” under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) when the City approved a vesting tentative tract map for the project in 2002. The tenants argued that those tenant protections precluded threatened evictions against the approximately 40 tenants then remaining.
AIMCO argued that, without regard to the tract map, the company had the right to proceed with eviction of the remaining tenants under California’s Ellis Act, which permits a landlord to terminate all rental agreements if it is going out of the residential rental business.
Although the trial court denied relief, a three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal ruled last week that the evictions were unlawful and violated the terms of conditions imposed pursuant to (CEQA) in connection with a redevelopment project the city approved in November, 2002. The appeals court ruled that AIMCO could not attempt “to defeat” the conditions it imposed upon itself in order to obtain approval of the redevelopment project by “ignoring” the conditions or “attempting to render them meaningless by moving ahead with the project in spite of them.”
In effect, the court ruled that the Ellis Act did not “trump” CEQA and would not defeat specific mitigation measures that had been conditions to the City’s approval of the project. The court directed the city to enforce the tenant protection conditions placed on the project and directed the lower court to halt the eviction of the remaining Lincoln Place tenants.
Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, said, “We are jubilant. This points the way for [city] council members to assist longtime renters being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods by condo conversions where the developer wants to evict them rather than include them in redevelopment plans. Council members can negotiate win-win situations and the city can enforce these agreements.”
Laura Silagi and David Ewing of the Venice Community Coalition called the case “an important lawsuit which will have far-reaching effects on how our city and other cities enforce their agreements with developers.”
AIMCO Venezia is a subsidiary of Apartment and Investment Management Company, which in 2004 “held real estate assets in excess of $10 billion, and owned hundreds of apartment buildings across the country,” according to the court.