Barrington Plaza evictions did not meet legal requirements, judge says

Los Angeles, CA - May 15: Josette Rojas tends to her plants at Barrington Plaza where owners have served the residents of 577 occupied rent-controlled units with eviction notices on Monday, May 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, CA. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)
Barrington Plaza tenant Josette Rojas in her apartment in May 2023. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The eviction of hundreds of tenants at the massive Westside apartment complex Barrington Plaza failed to meet the requirements of state and local law, a judge tentatively ruled Thursday.

The plaza's owner, Douglas Emmett Inc., sought to evict nearly 600 tenants from the complex last year, saying it was necessary to install fire sprinklers and other fire safety upgrades after two major blazes.

In the months since the eviction notices were served, hundreds of residents have moved out. But more than 100 remained and the tenants association filed suit, arguing that the evictions were not proper under the law. They framed their fight as an effort to protect a pocket of rent-controlled apartments in a neighborhood where housing costs are sky high.

Under the tentative ruling issued Thursday by Superior Court Judge H. Jay Ford III, the tenants will get to stay in their homes.

The trial in the civil case took place in April at the Santa Monica Courthouse.

Read more: They face L.A.’s largest eviction in years. But these Westside renters won’t go quietly

Two laws were at the center of the case — the state’s Ellis Act, which gives landlords the right to get out of the rental business, and the Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, which controls rent increases and addresses how the Ellis Act is applied locally.

In his tentative ruling, Ford said the owner failed to meet the requirements of both.

Under the Ellis Act, landlords can evict rent-stabilized tenants in order to remove units from the rental market. The Los Angeles Rent Stabilization Ordinance, meanwhile, says landlords can evict if they intend in good faith to demolish the unit or remove it permanently from rental housing use.

Read more: Trial over mass evictions at Barrington Plaza could hinge on meaning of "permanent"

The judge found that the company never intended to remove the units from the rental market when it sought to evict the tenants. Instead, the company planned to renovate the units and re-rent them.

The company "always had the present and continuing intent to renovate the units for future use as residential rental housing," he wrote.

During the trial, the company argued that it met the legal requirements for the evictions. Lawyers for the owners said safety precautions compelled them to evict the tenants in order to install fire sprinklers after two major fires in recent years.

The company can still raise objections to the ruling, which is not final. The company did not immediately comment on the ruling. But the tenants were celebrating Thursday.

"This victory is a testament to the strength, resilience, and unity of our community," the Barrington Plaza Tenants Assn. said in a statement after the ruling. "The court has recognized our rights and ruled in our favor, this decision marks a significant win for tenant rights."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.