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As part of a fight to stop dozens of seniors from being evicted from their Westwood retirement home, the Los Angeles City Council Tuesday took a step toward designating the facility a residential hotel.

“Just know that we support you. We’ll do everything we can to ensure that you are not evicted,” Councilman Joe Buscaino told residents of the home.

The council approved a motion — introduced last week by Councilman Paul Koretz — that directs the city’s Housing and Community Investment Department to report back within two weeks on making the determination.

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, according to Koretz’s office.

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 Housing and Community Investment Department can make the determination on whether the property is a residential hotel, and not the council, according to Koretz’s office.

In November, Watermark Retirement Communities served eviction notices to the residents of Vintage Westwood Apartments at 947 Tiverton Ave., with residents being told they would have a year to vacate the property.

Watermark wants to complete a $50 million renovation and convert the building into 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 has said, and residents will also be paid up to $19,700 per unit for moving costs — an amount required under the Rent Stabilization Act.

Koretz has been scathing in his criticism of Watermark, calling it a “greedy corporation.” He also started a pressure campaign in December by publicly releasing the names and contact information of Watermark’s top executives and asking supporters to “pressure these faceless, heartless wheeler-dealers by calling, emailing and mailing to express your outrage.”

A December motion introduced by Koretz also asked multiple city departments to examine ways to stop the evictions.

Former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo, who is representing Watermark, appeared before the council and said, “Our client wants to make this building as safe as possible.”

The building “is in serious state of disrepair and safety is the utmost concern of Watermark,” he said, adding that the plumbing, elevators, electrical and other “critical lifesaving systems” are in need of repairs.

Some residents also spoke before the council, including Jane Mombach.

“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,” Monbach said. “I do hope that this can be satisfied without this eviction and we hope to have a settlement where we don’t have to leave the building.”

In a statement issued after the vote, Watermark President David Barnes said the building “is not a residential hotel and does not qualify for the residential hotel designation that is aimed at preserving housing of last resort for low-income individuals and families.”

Rent at the building is as high as $8,150 per month, according to Barnes, who also said it was the city’s own inspectors who said residents could not stay in the building during the repairs.

“Los Angeles city experts and engineers have determined that residents cannot safely stay in the building during much of the construction because the extensive repairs and upgrades require that electrical and life safety systems as well as other essential services be turned off to replace or upgrade them,” Barnes said.

—City News Service

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