Hollywood apartments razed in midst of investigation into Ellis Act violations

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Neighbors and former residents of a rent-controlled apartment building in Hollywood are up in arms after the building was demolished at the end of January. The apartments were knocked down after city officials said they found evidence that the owners—in violation of California’s Ellis Act—had evicted tenants, then rented out the units on Airbnb.

Renters in the building were forced to leave under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to mass-evict tenants when taking a property off the rental market. City records show the building’s owners filed an Ellis Act application in early March, but the Times reports that in November the city’s housing department found evidence the building was being advertised to short-term renters.

After a repeat violation in January, building department officials began informing the city attorney. Then, in a confusing series of events, city staff issued a demolition permit to the owners of the building before trying to revoke it later the same day.

Residents and city officials tell the Times that workers continued demolition even after it became clear that the permit was being revoked. An attorney for the building owners, however, says that work stopped as soon as his clients learned about the stop-work order. He further accuses neighbors of “spreading misinformation” about the developers in support of an “ideological” opposition to the project.

Nonetheless, city officials will continue to investigate the owners for violating the department’s order. Because demolition was already well underway, officials later allowed the building owners to finish razing the property. It’s unclear at this point how the city will respond to the Ellis Act violations prior to the property’s demolition.

Though the Ellis Act does not prevent a property owner from demolishing a building, making units available for short-term rental after evicting tenants is not permitted under the law. Last year, the city attorney’s office filed criminal charges against a landlord accused of doing just that.

“In a city with a profound shortage of affordable housing, unlawfully converting rental units to operate hotels has got to stop,” City Attorney Mike Feuer said at the time.

As the popularity of short-term rental sites such as Airbnb grows, housing advocates worry that long-term residential units are disappearing from the market in neighborhoods where landlords stand to make higher profits renting living spaces by the night. City leaders are currently working on a new set of rules for short-term rentals—still largely unregulated in Los Angeles—that will address some of these concerns.

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