Amid pressure from the Los Angeles City Council, the firm that owns a Westwood retirement community seeking to evict its residents during renovations on the building, announced on Feb. 17 that everyone can stay. The offer comes with a major caveat: that the council’s effort to designate the property a residential hotel be halted.
A letter from Watermark Retirement Communities – carbon copied to Los Angeles City Council members and Mayor Eric Garcetti – was sent to the dozens of residents of the Westwood Horizons apartments in the 900 block of Tiverton Avenue.
Watermark Executive Director Allison Marty wrote that residents who wish to stay during the renovations can do so, although they may have to temporarily move rooms or be temporarily moved to a hotel at no cost to them.
The letter comes after the Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted Feb. 14 to ask a City department to decide if the property should be designated a residential hotel, which would block the evictions if it was determined to be one. A residential hotel designation could make the property ineligible for the Ellis Act evictions the property’s owner is seeking and require an alternative approach to renovating the building.
The Ellis Act is a provision in California law that provides landlords with a legal way to get out of the rental market business. Only the City’s Housing and Community Investment Department can determine if the property is a residential hotel, and not the council.
The Watermark letter also comes after months of public pressure from City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who publicly accused Watermark of being a “greedy corporation,” run by “faceless, heartless wheeler-dealers.”
Koretz did not immediately respond to a request to comment on the letter.
In November, Watermark served eviction notices to the residents. Koretz has said in media interviews the company gave residents 120 days to move out and later changed the moving date requirement to a year. Watermark spokeswoman Laura Mecoy, however, said most of the residents were given a year to move from the start.
Watermark wants to complete a $50-million renovation and convert the building to a residential care facility with assisted living. The current facility is unlicensed and does not provide health care options.
The residents can move back in at the same rental rate, Watermark officials have said, and residents will also be paid up to $19,700 per unit for moving costs, an amount required under the Rent Stabilization Act.
About a dozen residents and their children spoke at the Feb. 14 meeting and talked of the stress and hardship an eviction would mean.
“I may not show my anger and my fear by my voice, but we are all really very frightened, very distressed and emotionally upset about the feeling that we have to evacuate the building,” resident Jane Monbach said.
Mecoy said the offer to allow the residents to stay was completely contingent on the property not being named a residential hotel, because the designation would prevent the company from converting the property to a licensed care facility. “I am writing you today because we learned from your testimony at City Council that many of you may not be aware of the approach that we have offered to follow that would allow residents to remain in the building during construction,” Marty wrote. She later added that a residential hotel designation could “frustrate” Watermark’s renovation efforts and the application “needs to be withdrawn.”