LA City councilman pledges fight to save 150 senior living residents from eviction

Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz plans to up the ante Tuesday in his fight to stop more than 150 disabled residents of a Westwood senior apartment complex from being evicted.

Koretz plans to introduce a motion at today's City Council meeting asking a number of city offices to look at viable options to stop the evictions. He also has begun a "pressure campaign" against the facility's owners, Watermark Retirement Communities, which recently sent notices to the complex's residents saying they must vacate their units by April 27.

The pressure campaign strategy was outlined in a newsletter Koretz sent Monday to supporters. "Here's what you can do. Go to my `NoToWatermark' page on Facebook. There, you will find the names of each of the executives behind this nasty decision as well as phone numbers, email addresses, and mailing addresses," Koretz wrote. "I've posted important letters. During this process, I will continue using this page to update you on my continued fight! Let's pressure these faceless, heartless wheeler-dealers by calling, emailing, and mailing to express your outrage and demand they STOP the evictions! Enough is Enough!"

Koretz also said he has developed a number of strategies to fight the evictions.

"The building's previous owner got approvals to do a phased renovation, where the residents would not be evicted but would be moved to other floors while the upgrades were being completed on the vacated floors," Koretz said Monday in front of the Vintage Westwood Apartments at 947 Tiverton Ave. "Then, the Arizona-based corporation called Watermark bought the building and is now using trying to use those same approvals to evict all the residents at once. This sure looks like another greedy corporation trying to force out tenants who are paying lower rents under the rent stabilization ordinance."

Under the Ellis Act, owners are legally allowed to remove units from the rental housing market under certain conditions, according to Koretz's office. The building's occupants received eviction notices recently from Watermark Retirement Communities, which owns the facility, stating residents must vacate their units by April 27.

The owners have plans to remodel and convert the building to a luxury state-licensed residential elder-care facility, and Watermark has cited the temporary cutoff of utilities along with the disruptive construction as reasons for the evictions.

Koretz said he had met with attorneys representing a number of residents. "These attorneys believe they have a reasonable chance of winning in court over the question of whether or not Watermark is illegitimately using the Ellis Act to evict their residents," Koretz said. "Watermark could be violating the Ellis Act by exchanging one set of renters for another under the guise of converting to assisted living, rather than going out of the rental business completely."

Koretz also sent a letter on Friday to Vincent Bertoni, head of the Department of City Planning, asking him to hold a public hearing on the matter. "If the legal and procedural means exist, I will do everything I can to prevent these evictions," Koretz wrote.

In a statement to news media outlets last week, Watermark executives said "the vast majority of residents will be eligible for extensions, allowing up to one year before relocating. We recognize the fact that this news has a great impact on residents, families and associates and pledge to support them throughout the process."