3 Big Victories: Court Sides with LP Tenants

The remaining Lincoln Place tenants will not be packing and moving out anytime soon, and evicted tenants may be moving back.

In a sweeping published opinion, a state appeals court yesterday ordered a halt to the eviction of tenants at Lincoln Place Apartments in Venice by owner AIMCO Venezia, LLC.

In December, 2005, 86 Lincoln Place residents, including 21 children, were locked out of their homes in the largest eviction lockout in a single day in Los Angeles history. Eviction cases against remaining 13 senior and disabled tenants were pending, awaiting the outcome of the Sept. 20 court decision.

The suit was on behalf of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association and Ingrid Mueller, a long-time tenant.
A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal sided with tenants, ruling that the evictions were unlawful and violated the terms of conditions imposed pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in connection with a redevelopment project the city approved in November, 2002. Former tenant Laura Burns said of the decision, “We are finally vindicated. No one would listen. The City Attorney refused to protect our rights. These evictions were so traumatic and a nightmare for everyone who was there. We have finally been heard.”

AIMCO and its predecessor had promised that in redeveloping the 38-acre, 795 unit garden-style complex, no tenant would be involuntarily evicted. Nevertheless, AIMCO ignored this promise by evicting the tenants under the Ellis Act, a California state law designed to allow property owners to go out of the rental business.
In separate litigation, tenants have challenged whether AIMCO, by many measures the largest apartment rental company in the country, truly intends to leave the rental business at Lincoln Place.

AIMCO argued that the Ellis Act allowed it to evict the tenants in spite of the CEQA mitigation proposals offered by AIMCO, which were adopted as conditions by the city in approving the Lincoln Place redevelopment project. The appeals court ruled that AIMCO could not attempt “to defeat” the conditions it imposed upon itself in order to obtain approval of the redevelopment project by “ignoring” the conditions or “attempting to render them meaningless by moving ahead with the project in spite of them.”

The court directed the city to enforce the tenant protection conditions placed on the project and directed the lower court to halt the eviction of the remaining Lincoln Place tenants.

Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, one of the parties that sued the city and AIMCO in the case, said, “We are jubilant. This points the way for council members to assist long-time renters being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods by condo conversions where the developer wants to evict them rather than include them in redevelopment plans. Council members can negotiate win win situations and the city can enforce these agreements.”

AIMCO now has two choices. It can cut its mounting losses and sell the apartments to the tenants or to a more benevolent landlord, or it can appeal to the California Supreme Court. Most observers who know AIMCO’s track history are betting on the latter.

The tenants legal expenses in fighting for their rights continue to mount. Contributions can be sent to LPTA, P.O. Box 1312, Venice 90294.

Posted: Mon - October 1, 2007 at 08:20 PM