West Hollywood, California (September 23, 2010) - The owner of West Hollywood's historic landmark El Mirador Apartments at 1302 North Sweetzer Ave. (at Fountain), is invoking the Ellis Act and emptying the building of tenants in a dispute with the city over replacement windows.
|The owner of West Hollywood’s historic landmark El Mirador Apartments at 1302 North Sweetzer Ave. (at Fountain), is invoking the Ellis Act and emptying the building of tenants. Photo by WeHo News.
The city's Rent Stabilization and Housing Department deemed building owner Jerome Nash's application to "Ellis" the building, or to go out of the rental business, complete on September 14, according to acting-director Jeffrey Skorneck.
Tenants in the 21 units still inhabited – the building contains 32 units, 11 of which have been left vacant over the past year – have all received eviction notices, said Mr. Nash.
In an interview with Mr. Nash, he declared that he planned to leave the landmark building, built in 1929 by architect S. Charles Lee, vacant for the next ten years, "if I don't give it away to a foundation for its use," he said.
Kathleen and James Seligman, residents at El Mirador since 1979 and 1983, respectively, told WeHo News they struggled to comprehend the fact that they must leave their home of three-decades.
"I feel it's very traumatic and terrible thing to forced to leave your home," said Kathleen Segilman. "I can tell you it's almost surreal."
She said, "It's a very sad story, but I'm only one person; there are many people affected by this and everyone has their own reality about how they're going to go about finding someplace to live."
Saying "there is no financial advantage in it for me," Mr. Nash characterized his clearing the building of tenants as a reaction to City Hall's refusal to allow him to replace badly deteriorated windows with "windows that do not leak."
|Kathleen and James Seligman, residents at El Mirador since 1979 and 1983, respectively, told WeHo News they struggled to comprehend the fact that they must leave their home of three-decades. Photo by WeHo News.
He wants to replace the decades-old windows with water-tight windows to help protect what he described as the building's "crumbling plaster; it's falling apart from water damage and the city won't let me prevent that."
"They are literally falling off the building," he said, referring to a 2006 incident in which one of the Seligman's window panes fell four floors to the street.
Code compliance cited Mr. Nash and gave the Seligmans a rent reduction until the window was replaced. The Seligmans say the window is still nailed shut.
The City's Historic Preservation Commission did deny a request from Mr. Nash to replace windows on the local cultural landmark with new aluminum windows; the body determined the windows Mr. Nash presented at the time did not conform to the historic nature of the structure.
Ed Levin, architect and member of the HPC who lives in a historic building, said the HPC simply did its duty under the law. "We uphold the [United States' Department] Secretary of Interior's standards," he said, "and that means you can't just put aluminum windows in your building."
|The landmark building, built in 1929 by architect S. Charles Lee, will sit vacant for the next ten years, “if I don’t give it away to a foundation for its use,” he said. Photo by WeHo News.
He said he remembered Mr. Nash's "chip on his shoulder" clearly from the presentation, although he said a person's manner does not enter into an HPC decision on the merits of a presentation.
"He said, 'Here's what I want to do; it's my way or the highway.'"
Mr. Nash lays claim to being the catalyst that resulted in the Ellis Act's passage – his failed law suit against the City of Santa Monica led directly to the legislation that allows landlords to leave the rental business in 1985.
Under the Ellis Act's provisions, a landlord who Ellis-es a building cannot rent units again to tenants for ten years.
They can return to the rental business and re-rent an Ellis-ed building before that date, but first would be required to offer the unit to the original renter at the rent-controlled price.
Mr. Skorneck said the City's Rent Stabilization and Housing Department could not say until applications are filed how many of the residents will be allowed, for income or disability reasons, to stay beyond the four-month grace period for an entire year, but said a thorough educational and review process was underway.
"We've been giving people information that would allow them to apply if they fall into that category," he said, with no formal replies coming into City Hall yet.
|Photo By WeHo News
City officials responded with disappointment colored with hope.
"Although state law allows a landlord to go out of the rental housing business, we hope this landlord will reconsider his decision and maintain El Mirador as a rental property for many years to come," said West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman
"City staff has been working very closely with the tenants at the El Mirador apartments to ensure that they understand their rights and those rights are fully protected," Mayor Heilman said.
Housing advocates decried the decision, characterizing Mr. Nash in less then glowing terms.
Larry Gross, head of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), a housing advocacy group instrumental in the founding of West Hollywood, told WeHo News, "This is the monster grand-daddy of the Ellis Act."
|Larry Gross, head of the Coalition for Economic Survival (CES), said, "You are dealing with an irrational, vindictive landlord that is motivated by spite and revenge. This makes negotiating with him near to impossible." WeHo News.
Mr. Gross said, "You are dealing with an irrational, vindictive landlord that is motivated by spite and revenge. This makes negotiating with him near to impossible.
"It is an outrageous situation, but is the law," said Mr. Gross. "CES and other groups have been attempting to change the Ellis Act for some 25 years now, but the majority of the state legislature has refused to act."
Reaction from community advocates around the city was universally condemnatory.
Council member Jeffrey Prang said, "It's tragic that these tenants are being moved out…[simply because Mr. Nash] is throwing a tantrum because he can't get what he wants."
Elyse Eisenberg said, "It would be a tragic loss to our architectural legacy if this building deteriorates due to long term vacancy. We have now permanently lost 125 work force housing units this year, contributing to the forced exodus of our middle class residents."
David Yocum, a realtor living in another historic building in WeHo, La Fontaine, said, "It is heartbreaking to hear these poor people are losing their homes of many years. It's a shame that one of the landmark West Hollywood buildings is allowed to do this..."
Expressing hope that "cooler heads will prevail at some point," West Hollywood council member John Duran said, "a dispute over historic preservation shouldn't result in the eviction of long-term tenants."
The Seligmans say they should qualify to stay for the full 12-month stay, so they would determine where to go at a measured pace.
They will miss the building, she said, "It's been a wonderful 31 years. That building is absolutely… I can't tell you what it's like to live in that kind of a landmark of a building, with its history.
"When you live there you hear the stories of who lived there in the 1930s," she said, "and it gives you a sense of the history of the city."
A building resident/interested party meeting has been called for October 5 at City Hall. Arranged by the Seligmans, the meeting is designed to provide Mr. Nash with a forum at which he can explain his reasoning for Ellis-ing El Mirador and answer questions.