Renters win fight against condo conversion in Hancock Park

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Tenants of a small rental property on the western edge of Hancock Park scored a victory this week when they successfully appealed the conversion of their building into condos.

In a unanimous decision, the Central Area Planning Commission voted to uphold the appeal, filed by residents of the building and members of the Los Angeles Tenants Union.

Dozens of supporters were in attendance at the meeting and urged the commission to preserve the building’s four units as rentals protected by the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

“I don’t think you should approve any of this before you have more affordable programs,” said Los Angeles resident J.T. Lawson, who told the commission that he had been evicted under the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to remove rent-controlled units from the market when demolishing properties or undertaking condo conversions.

“Stop here,” he said.

Representatives of the building owners argued that Ellis Act proceedings had already begun and that tenants would be entitled to relocation stipends of between $8,050 and $20,050.

“This does not mean homelessness,” said Linda Hollenbeck, an attorney for the owners.

But tenants of the building maintained they were given no realistic way to remain in their units, with projected sale prices for the condos projected between $1 million and $1.15 million. Rental prices for other apartments in the area were similarly restrictive, they said (residents of the building now pay between $1,950 and $2,441, according to a report from the planning department).

Under Los Angeles law, condo conversions can be blocked when the vacancy rate in an area falls below 5 percent.

Planning staff argued that, though the area’s vacancy rate is less than that 5 percent threshold, the project’s four units would not have a “cumulative effect” on the overall rental market.

The commissioners disagreed.

“The loss of units through projects like this does start to be concerning,” said Commissioner Lys Mendez. “In a planning area that has … 14 percent of the city’s RSO units, the loss of rent-controlled units seems to have a negative impact on housing stock.”

With the project defeated, the building’s tenants still face an uncertain future. As planners pointed out during the hearing, the property owners could still vacate the units and raze the property, or simply wait and resubmit an application for a condo conversion.

In announcement Thursday, the LA Tenants Union promised that tenants would continue to fight the evictions going forward.

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