By Judy Branfman
Since 1999 over 1320 units of affordable, rent-controlled housing have been removed from Venice’s housing stock using the Ellis Act, which allows owners to take their buildings off the rental market.
Developers, investors, and wealthy individuals usually target low-rent buildings for purchase, evict tenants with the Ellis Act, then turn around and, very often before the legally-mandated waiting period is over, re-rent at market rates. Over 28,300 units of affordable, rent-control housing have been pilfered in this way across the city of LA. Tenants rarely know their rights and the city doesn’t care. See it here https://www.cesinaction.org/maps-of-ellis-act-evictions-1
Mine is a familiar story to many… When my landlord died, a group of owner/investors bought the 4-unit building on 3rd Street. The first eviction trick they tried was the ‘owner-occupancy’ exemption, claiming one of the owners would move into my unit. But when I saw the owner’s gorgeous mini-estate in Ojai it was obvious she didn’t intend to move to Venice – and they dropped that scheme. Plan B was to evict us all using the Ellis Act and unfortunately that worked – even tho they sent mailings to wrong addresses and the owners didn’t attend a hearing I showed up at (City Attorney Delgadillo somehow flipped that around two years later when he instructed a judge to dismiss my small claims suit against the new owner because I hadn’t shown up at that hearing!).
Within a year they had emptied us all out of the building and sold it – and soon the next owner was renting two units at market rates despite Ellis rules that units be offered first to evicted tenants at the same rent if re-renting within the first three years after the eviction. Complicated! Apparently too much for the city of LA, which has done nothing about the constant abuse of the Ellis Act over 22 years, despite tenants inability to pay higher rents, and the not-unrelated increase of people living on the streets.
“Where Has All The (affordable) Housing Gone?” grew out of my experience. It’s a participatory art project exploring the loss of affordable, rent-control housing in Venice. Over the past two months community members, most of us new to each other, have been photographing and writing about the hundreds of properties where people were evicted using the Ellis Act. We’ve also looked at other ways affordable, rent-controlled units have been eliminated and replaced with market-rate rent-controlled units, single-family houses, and hotel rooms and other types of short-term rentals. We’re looking at this situation from the POV of diverse community members: lifelong Venetians, new Venetians, evicted Venetians, newly housed Venetians, and unhoused Venetians. We’ll put together an installation from the materials we produce in Beyond Baroque’s gallery, opening in late May.
On March 31, 2023, most of the covid-era tenant protections in the city of LA and Los Angeles County will end. Despite covid-protections over the last three years building owners have evicted tenants with impunity – but tenant advocates are now expecting an eviction tsunami and a surge in the number of unhoused (see below for tenant resources). According to the US Census Bureau about 226,000 LA households are still behind in their rent, but starting April 1, 2023, they will have to pay their full rent and back rent as well. There are some new protections, but confusion about what’s new and what’s expiring will make it harder to sort out.
|Resources for Tenants Needing Information and Help
StayhousedLA – https://www.stayhousedla.org/ (workshops, connection to attorneys)
Westside Local of the LA Tenants Union – https://latenantsunion.org/en/locals/#Westside (6:30pm meetings at Reese Tabor Park in Oakwood – 1st and 3rd Wednesdays)
Eviction Defense Network – https://edn.la/services/ (online training videos, workshops, attorneys)
Coalition for Economic Survival – https://www.cesinaction.org/tenants-rights-clinic (workshops, advocacy)
Keep LA Housed – https://twitter.com/KeepLAHoused (workshops, advocacy)
This map above locates the properties where tenants have been evicted from rent-controlled buildings in Venice using the Ellis Act.
|Call for stories – and other contributors
If you’ve ever been evicted using the Ellis Act – or if you’ve experienced an attempt to evict you from a Venice apartment, we would really like to talk with you and hear your story (anonymously or otherwise since we know these aren’t always happy stories). Translation available. And… if you’d like to join and contribute your design/photo/social media skills please let us know. Please contact Judy at email@example.com or LM at 310-822-3006
This map below locates the properties where tenants have been evicted from rent-controlled buildings in Venice using the Ellis Act.
For more info on the project contact Judy Branfman at firstname.lastname@example.org or Beyond Baroque at 310-822-3006.
Big thanks to host and co-producer Beyond Baroque – and our community partners Venice Arts Council, Venice Community Housing, Venice Equity Alliance, The Original Save Venice, and Westside LATU.
And many thanks to the California Arts Council and California Humanities for support.
We’ve learned it’s very common for tenants to face harassment to drive them out of their rent-controlled homes. LA’s Anti-Harassment Ordinance (TAHO) is meant to protect tenants from harassment by landlords, but as Jack Ross wrote in Capital & Main (A Year Into New Los Angeles Law to Protect Renters, City Has Taken Zero Landlords to Court, 9/28/22), TAHO is almost completely toothless, with no funding or will for enforcement – and “…one word is to blame. The ordinance states that private attorneys “may” be awarded reimbursement if they win TAHO cases, not that they “shall” be awarded reimbursement.” This “found poem” by Tom Laichas, constructed of words taken from LA’s TAHO, works with the meanings of “may” (= maybe/might) and “shall” (= must) when it comes to tenants’ rights:
Private Right of Action
A tenant may
An aggrieved tenant may
A tenant prevailing in court may
The court may
the landlord may
a civil proceeding may
may be awarded
may be enjoined
may be commenced
may make studies and investigations
The following words and phrase
whenever used in this article
shall be construed
as defined in this section
Words and phrases
not defined herein
shall be construed
in Sections 12.03
and 151.02 of this Code if defined
Shall may be construed
Shall may be defined
shall may be construed as defined
Shall use be construed
and institute defined
awarded as defined
as enjoined as commenced
May be aggrieved
any person organization entity
may be aggrieved
may institute civil proceedings
may be awarded damages
may be awarded fees and costs
fees and costs construed
may be defined
may be awarded
due to harassment
City clerk mayor effective date
Do ordain may
do find that may
to read as may
may this bad conduct
be construed defined construed
as a misdemeanor.
Approved as to Form and Legality
I Michael N. Feuer City Attorney
I Odeborah Briethaupt
Deputy City Attorney
Shall not notice evictions.
|From our writing workshop
Lucky to have our activism and activists that are interested in people like me and my brothers and sisters on the streets.
by Aanti Sumaiya