Tenants Say They're Facing Eviction Due To Loophole In Anti-Eviction Law

Rose Serna with the notice she received telling her to leave her Highland Park apartment due to unspecified remodeling plans. (David Wagner/KPCC)

L.A. renters say a new state law intended to prevent evictions has a major flaw: It gives landlords the option to remove tenants based on vague remodeling plans.

Local lawmakers are trying to close what they see as a "loophole" in the law, AB 1482, which took effect Jan. 1. The law bans some previously allowable forms of eviction, but lets landlords remove tenants to "substantially remodel" a building.

The L.A. City Council voted Wednesday to move forward with a plan that would require landlords to first obtain permits for remodeling work before giving tenants notice to leave. The move comes after Long Beach's City Council voted Tuesday to enact a similar requirement.

The news is welcome for renters like Rose Serna, who received a letter earlier this month telling her to leave her Highland Park apartment within 60 days. The reason given on the form was an unspecified plan for her apartment to be "substantially remodeled."

"I was not provided with any details," Serna said. "I know nothing about the repairs that they're talking about."

Serna has been living in Highland Park for 15 years. She pays $900 per month for the one-bedroom she shares with her daughter, who is in second grade.

Serna doesn't want to change her daughter's school, but she said finding a comparably priced apartment nearby would be impossible. Similar units in her building are now going for $1,800 per month and up, according to online listings.

The building's owner, Interstate Equities Corp., did not respond to LAist's calls and emails seeking information about its remodeling plans for Serna's unit.

'THE LATEST LOOPHOLE'

This isn't the first time Serna has been told to leave. She previously participated in a rent strike at this building after new owners gave her and other tenants double-digit rent hikes. She received a 60-day notice last year that was later overturned by a city moratorium on such evictions.

"I think this is just the latest loophole that they've found," she said. "I don't believe that they have plans to fix anything that would take more than 30 days or make this uninhabitable."

Renters in Long Beach described similar situations at a recent City Council meeting there.

Jonathan Jager, a housing attorney with the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, said his organization has heard from dozens of households affected by these evictions. He said many renters are finding themselves in a precarious position when looking for a new place.

"We deal with very low-income tenants who often don't have the cash on hand to pay first and last month's rent" when searching for a new place, Jager said.

The new state law requires relocation assistance for evicted tenants, but landlords can comply by waiving their last month's rent.

STALLED REPAIRS?

Landlord groups urged lawmakers to hold off on requirements to obtain permits before proceeding with evictions. They argued the rules could have unintended consequences, potentially stalling much-needed repairs in aging buildings.

"There is no evidence at this time that any illegal activity as it relates to rehabilitation is taking place," said Fred Sutton, senior vice president for the California Apartment Association, in an emailed statement.

"It often makes sense to have the unit vacant prior to engaging in needed rehabilitation," he said. "Obtaining a permit is a process in these cities. It can take several months and there are expirations to the permits. What the City is now saying is: you can have a permit for the work but can't actually start."

REMODEL RULES WILL BE RETROACTIVE

Officials in both Los Angeles and Long Beach sought to fast-track the new rules because tenants given 60-day notices at the beginning of the year are coming up on the deadline to leave their apartments. The cities are making their ordinances retroactive to Jan. 1.

Nicole Donanian-Blandon is hopeful that L.A.'s new requirement will let her stay in her Koreatown apartment, at least for now. She received a 60-day notice in January.

"I'm very happy that they passed this motion," she said. "I think at the very least there should be transparency between landlords and the tenants. If they have intent to remodel, then I think they should have a plan."