EDITOR'S NOTE: This court ruling enforces limitations on the Ellis Act passed by the State Legislature in 1999, and means that invoking the Act does not prevent local governments from preventing the elimination of rental housing or its conversion to non-residential use. The 1999 bill was known as the "Burton Amendments" after State Senator John Burton, its chief legislative champion.

In a sweeping published opinion, a state appeals court on September 19th ordered a halt to the eviction of tenants at Lincoln Place Apartments in Venice by owner AIMCO Venezia, LLC. In December 2005, 86 Lincoln Place residents, including 21 children, were locked out of their homes in the largest eviction lockout in a single day in Los Angeles history. Eviction cases against remaining senior and disabled tenants were pending, awaiting the outcome of Wednesday’s court decision.

A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal sided with tenants, ruling that the evictions were unlawful and violated the terms of conditions imposed pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in connection with a redevelopment project the city approved in November 2002. “We are finally vindicated," said former tenant Laura Burns. "No one would listen. The City Attorney refused to protect our rights. These evictions were so traumatic and a nightmare for everyone who was there. We have finally been heard.”

AIMCO and its predecessor had promised that in redeveloping the 38-acre 795 unit garden-style complex, no tenant would be involuntarily evicted. Nevertheless, AIMCO ignored this promise by evicting the tenants under the Ellis Act, a California state law designed to allow property owners to go out of the rental business. In separate litigation, tenants have challenged whether AIMCO, by many measures the largest apartment rental company in the country, truly intends to leave the rental business at Lincoln Place.

AIMCO argued that the Ellis Act allowed it to evict the tenants in spite of the CEQA mitigation proposals offered by AIMCO, which were adopted as conditions by the city in approving the Lincoln Place redevelopment project. The appeals court ruled that AIMCO could not attempt “to defeat” the conditions it imposed upon itself in order to obtain approval of the redevelopment project by “ignoring” the conditions or “attempting to render them meaningless by moving ahead with the project in spite of them.”

The court directed the city to enforce the tenant protection conditions placed on the project and directed the lower court to halt the eviction of the remaining Lincoln Place tenants.

Sheila Bernard, president of the Lincoln Place Tenants Association, one of the parties that sued the city and AIMCO in the case, said, “We are jubilant. This points the way for council members to assist long-time renters being pushed out of gentrifying neighborhoods by condo conversions where the developer wants to evict them rather than include them in redevelopment plans. Council members can negotiate win win situations and the city can enforce these agreements.”