Tenants of the Lincoln Place apartment complex in Venice are facing eviction under the Ellis Act, a California state statute that allows landlords to leave the rental business.

But two tenants have filed a lawsuit challenging the justification of the property owner’s use of the Ellis Act.

Apartment Investment and Management Company (AIMCO), the Colorado-based company that owns Lincoln Place, began enforcing the Ellis Act in March to permanently remove remaining tenants at the apartment complex.

When constructed on a 38-acre parcel in 1949-51, Lincoln Place — bounded by Penmar Avenue and Lake and Frederick Streets in Venice — included 52 buildings with 795 rental units.

Seven buildings and 95 apartment units have since been demolished.

Patty Shwayder, AIMCO senior vice president, said the partnership of AIMCO-Venezia LLC, which owns Lincoln Place, has decided to end its involvement in operating the existing complex and plans to redevelop the property.

“The plan is to demolish the existing apartments and build something new,” Shwayder said.

Redevelopment plans have included a condominium complex

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with 144 affordable units.

AIMCO had offered a relocation package to Lincoln Place tenants late last year, which some tenants accepted. But many tenants chose not to relocate and remained in their apartments.

The property owner then decided to use the Ellis Act in March of this year to evict tenants who stayed.

The Los Angeles Municipal Code requires that tenants be given 120 days to vacate their rental units under the Ellis Act, but seniors of at least 62 years of age and disabled tenants are entitled to a full year.

Some tenants claim that AIMCO’s use of the Ellis Act to evict them is not justified because the property owner does not intend to go out of the rental business.

“We have a terrible shortage of rental units here in Los Angeles, and allowing AIMCO to illegally use the Ellis Act to withdraw all these great apartments off the market is a crime,” said Frieda Marlin, a 24-year resident of Lincoln Place.

Marlin, 81, and her son, Spike Marlin, 53, a seven-year tenant, filed for Declaratory Relief in Los Angeles Superior Court Friday, July 15th, asking for clarification as to how AIMCO can use the Ellis Act to evict the tenants.

“AIMCO is not going out of the rental business,” Spike Marlin alleged.

“It’s quite obvious that they intend to stay a landlord. It is their business. All they do is rent,” he claimed.

The Marlins are among the 74 tenants who are either disabled or seniors who are permitted to stay until March of next year under the Ellis Act.

But nearly 90 other Lincoln Place tenants were supposed to have left their units by Monday, July 18th, and some eviction notices have already been filed for those tenants, Shwayder said.

Shwayder said AIMCO’s use of the Ellis Act at Lincoln Place is “totally appropriate” because the AIMCO-Venezia partnership has decided to end its rental operation of the existing complex and build a new complex.

The lawsuit challenging AIMCO’s use of the Ellis Act is just an effort by the tenants to halt development at the complex, she alleged.

“It’s another in the long line of efforts to halt improvement of the property,” Shwayder said. “The lawsuit is totally without merit.”

Jan Book, a Lincoln Place tenant and an attorney representing the Marlins, said that for a landlord to use the Ellis Act, the landlord must be “going completely out of the rental business.”

There is an “epidemic” throughout Los Angeles of landlords using the Ellis Act to bypass land use regulation, Book said.

The Ellis Act has been “misinterpreted” when landlords claim they are going out of the rental business but only at a particular location, Book said.

“The Ellis Act is not for a property by property basis,” Book said.

AIMCO owns more than 50 apartment complexes in California, including 18 in Los Angeles, but the company does not intend to leave the rental business at any of those properties, Book alleged.

But Shwayder said the Ellis Act is “property specific,” and since the partnership of AIMCO-Venezia LLC is ending its involvement in operating the existing Lincoln Place, the use of the Ellis Act is legal.

Book said the Lincoln Place tenants are prepared to take the issue to court and will continue to fight to remain tenants of the unique housing complex.

“We are big enough and we have enough tenants in order to fight,” Book said.

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