TENANTS’ RIGHTS-That’s what City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell and United Way board member Jerry Neuman are permitting as they look the other way while residents are being ordered from their homes in a 1980s apartment tower, seen by thousands of commuters on the 101 freeway.
The Metropolitan has 52 units, but just 13 tenants are left in a time when spikes in displacement are reaching levels never seen before in Los Angeles. Tenants of The Metropolitan residential building at 5825 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood are feeling it at the worst possible time of year. A greed-driven housing crisis is gripping Los Angeles that has left more than half of our population living in fear that the lottery system of displacement will call their number.
At the Metropolitan, their number has been called, and series of powerful people and city entities let it — even helped it to happen.
The Grinch element here is that Liner LLP lawyer Jerry Neuman, the attorney for the developer, sits on the board of the United Way — A group that is “dedicated to permanently breaking the cycle of poverty” according to their mission statement. He heads the action task force “Home for Good.”
Clearly, the United Way board member doesn’t have a problem looking the other way and playing a role in starting a poverty cycle. Developers and lawyers like Neuman use groups like the United Way for their own moral insurance policies. Sure, they have no problems displacing tenants from their homes on Christmas, but they make up for it by advising groups who assist those who are already homeless.
Here’s a Metropolitan timeline showing how Los Angeles loses housing via self-induced red tape while so many people look the other way:
1990s — “Suge Knight and Dr. Dre sorta lived/terrorized the place,” according to a Curbed LA link about the Metropolitan, triggering a push from the community to clean up the hotel.
2006 — LA City Council approves renovation via “adaptive re-use” to change it from a hotel to popular luxury apartments. According to City Council requirements, DS Ventures developer Marc Annotti was required to offer four very low-income units to the poor and permanently end the hotel use of the building.
2008 — Building owner DS Ventures goes bankrupt during the Recession, according to Curbed. The property is still under the operating members of Annotti, Schwartzman, and Neuman.
2016 — Harridge Development Group (run by Schwartzman) names Mark Annotti on its website as Chief Operating Officer.
March of 2017 — In a surprise move, Harridge applies for a hotel operating permit, and at the city hearing on this unexpected controversy, only two residents can attend.
April of 2017 — Unknown to tenants, Harridge, according to LA City Planning Department Central Project Planning Division Nuri Cho and zoning administrator Jack Chiang, then change their application from a proposed hotel, to a new and untested form of property use known as “hybrid TORS” — or “transit occupancy residential structure,” otherwise known as a hotel. This allows the property owner to offer all 52 units for both short and long-term rental at the same time. Each unit is now half residential and half hotel.
Summer of 2017 — Los Angeles Tenants Union activists learn that this hybrid TORS permit contains a huge loophole allowing a developer or landlord to ignore city law which requires significant relocation fees be paid to any displaced tenant who lives under rent control. (This author then appeals to stop the hybrid TORS permit.)
September of 2017 — Central Area Planning Commissioners grant the experimental “hybrid TORS.” At the hearing, Zoning Administrator Jack Chiang announces that City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell is taking a neutral stand — a slap in the face to the surprised tenants who expect his help.
September of 2017 — At the same hearing, United Way board member and Harridge Development Group attorney Jerry Neuman makes an official promise that no Metropolitan residents will be displaced by this scheme. But there’s a problem: City Attorney Mike Feuer’s representative warns that the rules adopted by the Central Area Planning Commission — such things as requiring eviction of a Metropolitan hotel guest who is a repeated nuisance — could not be enforced by Feuer’s office.
October 2017 — Harridge Development Group posts 60-day vacating notices on the apartment doors of all eight residents in The Metropolitan who had not joined the building’s tenants’ association.
Early November 2017 — Tenants alert LA Tenant Union that, without notice to the tenants, Genosi “Apartels,” an extended stay hotel firm has appeared in the lobby and taken over management of the building.
Mid-November 2017 — Under pressure from the LA Tenants Union, Harridge grants a four-month extension to the eight tenants being pressured to vacate.Neuman twice sat before a board of the Central Area planning commissioners on August 8 and September 12 and swore that if the city granted the hotel usage, no tenants would be displaced from the Metropolitan. Tourists and residents could all happily live on the property together. Neuman came up with his own rules that even the city attorney cautioned the city would never be able to enforce.The hotel usage was approved by the commissioners — approved with “rules” the City Attorney could not enforce and without any city agency to oversee this “hybrid” use and protect the tenants. Once developer Harridge thought they were in the clear, it was only a matter of days before the eviction postings appeared.The eight tenants who received them never did anything wrong and were shocked that they would have to be out of their homes at Christmas. After pressure from the Los Angeles Tenants Union, Harridge came back around with new postings- – a four-month extension before the tenants must leave their homes.Happy Holidays.
By Susan Hunter – an activist and community organizer with the Los Angeles Tenants Union – Hollywood Local. She is also the case worker for that local and helps tenants to advocate for themselves under their rights.