Housing Groups Join Lawsuit To Defend LA’s Eviction Moratorium From Billionaire Developer’s Challenge
Hoping to defend local tenant protections from a billionaire developer’s legal challenge, a coalition of Los Angeles housing rights groups have successfully joined a lawsuit targeting the city’s eviction moratorium.
This week, a federal judge allowed three housing-oriented nonprofits — Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, Coalition For Economic Survival and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment — to join the lawsuit as defendants alongside the city.
The case was brought earlier this year by GHP Management, a property management company owned by L.A. developer Geoffrey H. Palmer. The lawsuit argues the city’s protections for tenants harmed by COVID-19 amount to an unconstitutional “taking” of private property.
The suit seeks upwards of $100 million in compensation for uncollected rent during the pandemic.
The Moratorium Has Helped Avert A 'Worst Case Scenario'
The city must balance the interests of all Angelenos in this case, said Strategic Actions for a Just Economy Executive Director Cynthia Strathmann. She said her nonprofit and the other two groups will be able to better articulate what this case means for the city’s most vulnerable households, many of them Black and Latino renters who lost their jobs during the pandemic.
Without the city’s protections, “we would have seen even more displacement than we did,” Strathmann said. “These protections have been very important in making sure that we averted that worst case scenario.”
GHP Management did not respond to our requests for comment.
For now, the city’s eviction moratorium remains in place, even after certain statewide protections lapsed at the end of September.
L.A. renters affected by COVID-19 cannot be evicted for failing to pay rent until the city declares an end to the local emergency. After that, tenants could have up to a year to repay overdue rent.
Landlords who have missed out on rent payments during the pandemic can apply for rent relief through various state and local programs that aim to clear the debts of low-income households.
Palmer Has Sued The City Before
Palmer’s properties are often large complexes near freeways with Italian-inspired names such as the Medici and the Orsini. His buildings include about 5,000 apartments within the city of L.A., according to court filings.
Unlike a previous legal challenge to L.A.’s eviction moratorium from the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, Palmer’s lawsuit is not seeking to overturn the city’s eviction protections. He’s only seeking compensation for his company’s losses.
But legal experts say a Palmer victory in this case would open the floodgates to other costly legal challenges, essentially forcing the city to invalidate its rules.
In his decision allowing the housing groups to intervene as defendants, Judge Dean Pregerson suggested that this case could have wide implications for L.A. tenants.
“Any argument that this matter presents a limited question pertaining only to a small number of litigants is not well-taken,” Pregerson wrote.
This isn’t the first legal challenge Palmer has mounted against city housing laws. In 2007, he successfully sued L.A. over its inclusionary housing ordinance requiring developers to include affordable apartments in their projects or pay a fee to the city.