Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer has filed charges against the owners of four properties for allegedly operating apartment buildings as short-term rentals or full-service hotels.

“In a city with a profound shortage of affordable housing, unlawfully converting rental units to operate hotels has got to stop,” Feuer said in a statement. “My office will continue to intervene to keep rent-stabilized units on the market and hold owners accountable for not complying with the law.”

Feuer’s office filed civil cases against the owners and operators of three apartment buildings – two in Venice and one in Hollywood – each subject to the city’s Rent Stabilization Ordinance (RSO), alleging that the property owners are illegally operating and advertising as hotels. In the fourth case, Feuer filed criminal charges against the owner of a building in the Fairfax district alleging that the property owner illegally evicted tenants to make way for Airbnb customers.

The charges in these four cases come just days before a Los Angeles City Council hearing on an ordinance to place limits on short-term rental services such as Airbnb. In each case, Feuer said that affordable apartment units had been removed from the marketplace.

One of the Venice property owners charged was Carl Lambert, president of Lambert Investments Inc., which owns and operates the 32-unit Venice Suites at 417 Ocean Walk as a hotel. In an email response, Lambert called the charges announced just three days before a City Council hearing “politically motivated.”

He further said that when Venice was an independent city (until 1926), all properties were allowed to be rented for less than 30 days and that Los Angeles has done nothing since to remove that right. Lambert added that the building owner had already begun a formal process with the city to officially convert the property back to hotel use. In the meantime, he said, the property has paid approximately $2 million in hotel bed taxes.

Feuer filed civil charges against William Andrew Layman, Rose Layman and Matthew Moore, the owners and managers of Venice Beach Suites at 1305 Ocean Front Walk. He said they allegedly operate the 30-unit apartment building as a hotel, extensively using internet sites to advertise the apartment units as hotel rooms for reservations, though the zoning for the location does not allow for its current use. A call to the Venice Beach Suites was not returned.

In Hollywood, Feuer charged George Panoussism, owner of a 59-unit apartment building at 830 N. Van Ness Ave., with illegally advertising the units as hotel rooms under the name Hollywood Dream Suites Hotel. Feuer also filed six criminal charges against Carol Jean Alsman, owner of a 4-unit property located at 500 N. Genesee Ave., including violations of the state Ellis Act.

The lawsuits seek a court appointed receiver to operate the properties until they are brought into compliance, as well as restitution and significant civil penalties.

Public policy and energy reporter Howard Fine can be reached at hfine@labusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardafine.

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