City’s Ellis Task Force Works To Assure That Owners Of Withdrawn Properties Follow The Law

Over the years staff from various Santa Monica City departments have received reports that some property owners evicted rent-controlled tenants under the Ellis Act – claiming to go out the rental business – but then re-rented the same units in violation of state and local law.

The City’s Ellis Task Force (“ETF”) was created to investigate and address these issues. Its goal was to learn the scope of the potential problem and address potential violations through enforcement, education and deterrence. The group is comprised of staff from City Attorney, Rent Control, Code Compliance, Police, and Planning.

The ETF began work in early 2008. Its first task was to find out which properties in Santa Monica might contain illegal rentals of formerly Ellised units. Staff started by identifying properties that had been withdrawn from the rental market under the Ellis Act but had not been accounted for by demolition or change of use. Staff found 59 such properties, comprising 245 units. Staff then conducted a field investigation as to which of these properties were occupied. This revealed that approximately 42 properties had currently occupied units.

Re-Occupancy Permits

The first issue that the ETF addressed with these occupied properties was enforcement of the City’s re-occupancy permit ordinance. Pursuant to Municipal Code Section 4.32.030, Ellised units may not be re-occupied without the owner first obtaining a re-occupancy permit from the Planning Department. Staff identified 32 (of the original 42) properties that appeared to be out of compliance with the re-occupancy permit requirement. Staff is currently in the process of pursuing the owners of these properties to assure compliance with the re-occupancy permit law.

Enforcement Litigation

Rent Control staff brought an Ellis enforcement lawsuit against the owners of an Ocean Avenue property that resulted in a settlement of $100,000. The Rent Board’s lawsuit alleged illegal re-renting of Ellised units. (Santa Monica Rent Control Board v. Santa Monica Ocean Star et al., L.A.S.C. Case No. SC 094603.) Some former tenants of that property also filed private lawsuits seeking damages from the owners for their displacement. The City Attorney’s office is currently pursuing a civil lawsuit against a local landlord for tenant harassment. (City of Santa Monica v. Cheryl Kautzky et al., L.A.S.C. Case No. SC101788.) In that case, the City alleges that the owner illegally re-rented recently Ellised units in addition to committing illegal harassment against a new tenant.

City Attorney and Rent Control legal staff continue to confer about other potential properties that may be in violation of the Ellis rules and that could be the subject of enforcement action.

Other steps

City staff has added new warnings with more conspicuous language to the application documents used by owners who withdraw properties from the market under the Ellis Act. Staff also added a new information sheet to this packet for all Ellis withdrawals. Staff also added a notice of any Ellis filing to all Residential Building Reports when residential properties are sold in the City; and added staff contact information for those seeking more information.

For more information or to report a violation of the Ellis rules, call 310-458-8336.

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