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Renter FAQ: What to do if you get an eviction notice under the Ellis Act

UCLA researchers say if we want cheaper housing, we’ll have to accept living a little closer to our neighbors.
John Williams PHD/Flickr
UCLA researchers say if we want cheaper housing, we’ll have to accept living a little closer to our neighbors.

When the California legislature passed the Ellis Act in 1985, landlords were given the power to evict their tenants from rent-controlled buildings as long as they sold the property, converted it into condominiums or let the building sit vacant for five years. 

Recent figures show that Ellis-related evictions in Los Angeles more than doubled from 2013 to 2014. These evictions also skyrocketed during the height of the real-estate boom from 2005-2007, as property owners sold their properties for high prices.

L.A.'s real estate market is heating up once again, and renter advocates anticipate that Ellis evictions will only grow in future years.

"Every rent-controlled tenant should be worried," warns Larry Gross from the Coalition for Economic Survival, "and it's going to get worse."

The law is already the center of a firestorm in San Francisco.

If you are a renter in L.A. and get a notice, here are your rights, as well as some answers to common questions.

How much advance notice do I get?

A landlord must tell all affected tenants at least 120 days beforehand. Senior citizens older than 62 and disabled tenants get more of a heads up, with a one-year notice provided they lived in the unit for at least a year.

Do I get any money for being kicked out?

Yes. You get money for relocation, and the amount depends on your situation.

If you lived in a unit for less than three years, you're eligible for $7,700. You can get $10,200 if you've resided there for longer or your income is under a certain threshold (80 percent of the area's median income, and that varies on your household's size).

If you are disabled, 62 years or older or have a dependent child, then those numbers bump up. You can receive $16,100 for being a resident for less than three years and $19,000 if you've lived there for longer.

These amounts will increase on July 1 by 3 percent, based on annual rent adjustments.

What if my landlord tries to re-rent my apartment?

It depends on how long after you moved out.

If your landlord tries to re-rent the apartment within two years, then he or she has to use registered or certified mail to offer you your old place back first. You have 30 days to respond, and you get to pay the same rent when you left, adjusted for the yearly increases that would have happened.

If your landlord tries to re-rent it within five years, then he or she doesn't have to reach you by registered or certified mail. You still have 30 days to lay claim to your old apartment, but you have to take the initiative and send the landlord a request in writing.

After five years, your landlord is free to re-rent your old pace to anyone and set the rent to a market-rate price. 

What if my landlord demolishes my old building and constructs a completely new one?

Your landlord can rent it out to anyone he or she wishes and set the rent at market rate. However, those units are protected by rent control if they open within five years of your eviction.

There's an exception if your former building only had four or fewer units, and the owner lived there for at least three years, too. Then the newly built units aren't subject to rent control.

Is there any way I can stop my eviction?

It depends on what your landlord does with the building. If your landlord wants to convert your building into condominiums, you can fight to stop the eviction.

The city can deny the conversion if the vacancy rate in the immediate area is 5 percent or less (the vacancy rate in Los Angeles County is currently 3.3 percent), and if the city finds that displacing the residents would have a significant effect on housing in the area.

Larry Gross, from the Coalition for Economic Survival, says, however, that most evictions he sees through the Ellis Act are because landlords want to rebuild.

"The majority of what's happened is demolitions to build new structures rather than converting existing buildings," he says.

Where can I get more info?

All the information about Ellis Act evictions in Los Angeles is detailed by the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department.

Tenants rights organizations like the Coalition for Economic Survival also assist renters with questions and concerns they may have about the process.

Did we answer all your questions? If not, please ask in the comments below and we'll try to get you answers.