Court Rules Tenants’ Rights Cannot Be Fast-Tracked
In 2019, The L.A. Tenants Union Hollywood Local and several tenants evicted or being pressured to move out from rent-stabilized Hollywood apartments by the Harridge Development Group to make way for the planned $1 billion Crossroads development filed a legal action over unlawful tenant eviction and displacement
HOLLYWOOD, Calif.–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Los Angeles Tenants Union Hollywood Local chapter and several rental tenants who sued after being pressured to move out of their apartments in order to make way for a planned $1 billion luxury development project along Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood known as Crossroads are celebrating a recent legal victory in the case.
In October 2020, the Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division One issued a ruling in the case (Case No. B305255) that essentially found that tenants’ rights—and the resolution of their legal claims—cannot be fast-tracked.
“We’re very happy that the Court of Appeal sided with the tenants in determining that developers cannot fast-track cases where tenants assert they have been harassed and intimidated into signing cash-for-keys move out deals,” said Tyler Anderson, attorney with the Los Angeles Center for Community Law and Action and who represented LATU Hollywood Local in the case. “We look forward to being able to continue to pursue these claims in front of the trial court.”
Over the past few years, the Harridge Development Group LLC, developer of the Crossroads project and its agents, have moved aggressively—and plaintiffs’ assert, illegally—to empty three apartment buildings housing over 80 rent stabilized apartments—several of which housed tenants who had lived there for decades.
As a result of the developers’ actions, in December 2019, the LATU Hollywood Local and several tenants filed a lawsuit against two limited liability corporations (LLCs) involved in Harridge’s Crossroads development. The legal action sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the luxury property developer and its agents asserting claims of Negligence, Per Se; Violation of Business and Professions Code §§ 17200 et seq.; and Violation of L.A.M.C. § 151.31, a provision of the 1978 Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO). Harridge had also failed to create a plan for the tenants to utilize their right of return, as was mandated under a condition of approval for the project.
At the time of the filing of the initial lawsuit in 2019, Susan Hunter, caseworker for the LATU Hollywood Local, said: “This is a case about a mega-developer’s attempt to skirt the requirements imposed by the City of Los Angeles to protect tenants residing in rent-stabilized properties set for demolition and redevelopment.”
The case was fast-tracked and dismissed by the trial court judge, but reinstated by the Court of Appeal, which sent the case back down to the trial court at the end of December.
On appeal, the LATU and tenant plaintiffs’ asserted claims that Harridge harassed and intimidated tenants at the buildings into signing cash-for-keys move out deals without providing adequate notice under Los Angeles Municipal Code Sec. 151.31. Harridge then wanted to fast-track resolution of the case, stating that those claims should subject the lawsuit to Environmental Leadership Development Project rules. However, the Court of Appeal disagreed, stating that the group’s claims of harassment and intimidation ‘are unrelated to ‘the certification of the environmental impact report or the grant of any project approvals,'” (quoting Remittitur Order at pg. 21.) Therefore, Harridge cannot fast track the resolution of those claims.
At the time of the 2019 filing, LATU’s Hunter also said: “Harridge and its agents ran roughshod over tenants in these rent-stabilized units with high pressure—and illegal—cash-for-keys buyout offers, extreme lowball Ellis Act relocation fees and coercive pressure on tenants to waive their ‘right to return’ at their same rents to the new affordable apartments set aside in the new Crossroad development. And while many of the tenants caved to pressure and vacated their apartments, approximately 50 tenants remain. This lawsuit seeks to preserve their rights under Los Angeles’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance and restore rights that we assert were illegally wrestled away from those tenants already forced or pressured out of their homes.”
Tenants named in the suit are part of a larger group of tenants of the Crossroads Apartments who are dues-paying members in good standing with the LATU Hollywood Local. LATU sees it as its duty to demand that the Harridge Development Group abide by the conditions set forth by the city. Those conditions are necessary to ensure that LATU members do not become homeless and can remain residents of Hollywood. The purpose of the conditions set forth by the city was to ensure that the community stays intact despite dramatic changes to the environment. Without a clear plan for relocation during the time of construction, LATU members will suffer great harm without any support in the present market where Hollywood’s inventory of affordable, rent-stabilized housing is losing more and more units due to development projects for hotels and luxury accommodations.
The Crossroads project was approved by the Los Angeles City Council in a unanimous 13-to-0 vote on Tuesday, January 22, 2019. Both City Councilmember Curren Price and Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell—in whose district Crossroads is located—were notably absent from the meeting and did NOT cast votes on the controversial project. Councilmember Curren’s wife, Del Richardson—through her eponymous Del Richardson Associates (DRA)—has been the hired relocation agent working on behalf of Crossroads’ developer Harridge Development Group to vacate and relocate residents from the more than 80 rent-stabilized apartments on the development site.
Crossroads is to include 905 new apartments and condos in three high-rise buildings, with 308 hotel rooms, 190,000 square feet of retail space, and has been granted 22 liquor licenses. While at first blush Crossroads appears to include 105 ‘new’ affordable apartments, in order to do so it is displacing scores of long-term, low-income Hollywood tenants and demolishing 84 rent-stabilized apartments. In fact, it is only creating 21 new affordable apartments in the $1 billion luxury project—about one new affordable apartment for each liquor license granted by the city.
LATU’s lawsuit demanded a jury trial, a declaration that the Defendants’ conduct violates the law, and actual, punitive and exemplary damages, statutory penalties, and lawyers’ fees.
LATU, Hollywood Local
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