A first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles pits four ousted tenants of three formerly rent-controlled apartments against their former landlady and Airbnb. The suit not only seeks to reverse their allegedly illegal ouster, but to highlight what the plaintiffs say are the predatory practices of short-term rental companies.

  • Advocacy group's suit says tenants were bounced to enable Airbnb to swoop in.
  • One couple had lived in the formerly rent controlled building since 1992, paying $1600 per month.
  • The plaintiffs want unspecified relief, and their homes back.

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit filed last month in Los Angeles pits four ousted tenants of three formerly rent-controlled apartments against their former landlady and Airbnb. The suit not only seeks to reverse their allegedly illegal ouster, but to highlight what the plaintiffs say are the predatory practices of short-term rental companies.

The owner of a small apartment building in the Fairfax area of Los Angeles decided to sell the four-unit building and gave the tenants eviction notices in late 2013, saying that the landlord wanted to get out of the rental business. They had until April 2014 to move.

The building’s tenants, two of whom had lived in their unit since 1992, were paying rents that they could not find elsewhere in LA, forcing them, their complaint alleged, to find less desirable accommodations in a less desirable part of the city.

The longest-term tenants were paying $1,600 per month for their two-bedroom unit.

In May of 2014, the tenants found their former homes, plus a few cosmetic changes, advertised on Airbnb for approximately $500 per night.

The advocacy group that filed the suit on behalf of the tenants, Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE), says that the action is clearly an Ellis Law violation, and violates the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

 

Airbnb-Logo-vector-imageThe Ellis Act is a California state law that permits landlords to evict all of their rent-controlled tenants, for specific reasons. These include getting out of the landlord business or the desire to tear down the buildings in favor of new construction. The building’s owner can also satisfy the law by leaving the property vacant for five years.

According to the suit, none of those things applies.

Roy Samaan, a research analyst with the group, says that in short time across LA, thousands of rental units have left the market to join the approximately 19 platforms that offer short-term rentals in lieu of a hotel room. Airbnb, he said, represents about 65 percent of the rentals in that market.

What the tenants want, Samaan said, is unspecified damages and the right to move back into their former, rent-controlled units. Even though they were given money to resettle, Samaan said that the tenant group very carefully documented where and when they found their former homes listed on the big rental sites, and decided to enlist LAANE to take action.

In a city where, the complaint says, about 52 percent of residents are renters, the affordable housing crunch is no laughing matter.

The suit, filed in the Superior Court of California for the County of Los Angeles, asks for a trial with a jury to decide the case.

Aside from that, the long-time tenants of the building lost their established neighborhood. Samaan said that when a press announcement was made in at the building when the suit was filed, it was clear that the plaintiffs missed their neighbors, right down to the pets. Unfortunately for the dislocated former tenants, one couple lost their dog, which could not handle the stress of the repeated moves.

He said that, as recently as December, the property was listed on the Airbnb site.

Samaan believe that this is the first documented case of a landlord getting caught kicking out long-term rent-controlled tenants expressly for the purpose of relisting on short-term rental websites.

He said that many times, tenants will take the relocation package offered, and “let it be.”

“These tenants were meticulous in keeping records,” he said. “For them, it became deeply personal.”

Email Kimberley Sirk.

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