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LIVING IN LIMBO NORTH HOLLYWOOD RESIDENTS FACE HOLIDAY EVICTION, LEGAL DOUBT.

Byline: GREGORY J. WILCOX Real Deals

NORTH HOLLYWOOD - Everyone wants to be home for the holidays. But imagine what it's like being told to leave your house, however modest, during the Christmas season because a wrecking crew, not Santa Claus, is coming to town.

A handful of North Hollywood families can.

They are faced with the uncomfortable, and unsettling, prospect of staving off eviction for as long as possible, the result of a Santa Ana-based real estate partnership, Corteen Village LLC, buying two lots in the 5300 block of Corteen Place.

Frank Roszak, a record producer and recording engineer, lives in one of the units just south of Chandler Boulevard with his wife and son. Another baby is due any day now - might be here by the time you read this, in fact.

The family has called Corteen Place home for more than three years because the rent - $825 a month - is affordable.

He and others say the owners have been less-than-diplomatic in their effort to move out families.

``For the most part I don't know if any of us are going to move until they really handle this situation a lot differently,'' he said Friday afternoon. ``I've got empty boxes and boxes packed. It's pretty nuts. I'm trying not to let any of this stuff get to my wife. They want us to be out by the 31st.''

Representatives of the ownership group did not return phone calls from the Daily News.

They might just be an interim player.

Another partnership, Corteen Village LP, is now in escrow to buy the property, one of the principals, Michael Miller, said late Friday afternoon.

Their plans call for building 67 apartments, 27 of them three-bedroom units, on the parcel.

Miller said his group is committed to following the Valley Village Specific Plan.

``We were attracted to the property, in part, because of what (the plan) envisions for this area. We would like to . . . create an architecturally charming residential community,'' he said.

According to property records, the transaction that would eventually result in what can best be characterized as a confusing and acrimonious situation developed after Corteen Place LLC bought the property in the summer of 1999 from the Howard Family Trust for $1.08 million.

Eventually, marketplace economics and the right of an investor to realize a profit would collide with what some would consider the morally right thing to do.

At the heart of the matter is whether the tenants, who live in small, one-story bungalows weathered by age and containing asbestos-laden materials, are entitled to relocation assistance from the partnership under the city of Los Angeles' Rent Stabilization Ordinance.

The ordinance is specific in how much landlords are required to pay renters. Corteen Village might still offer assistance, but tenants worry that it won't be as much as if they had the ordinance's protection.

There is no dispute that units are being rented and there is some proof that Corteen Village even believes relocation assistance is in order.

Earlier this year the partnership hired a real estate agent, Louis A. Frasco, who operates Moorpark-based Urban Assets Inc., to start serving tenants with notice that the complex would be demolished.

``Because you lived on the property prior to the ownership of Corteen Village LLC, you are entitled to receive a relocation fee. Please contact me regarding payment of this fee,'' Frasco wrote in a Sept. 14 letter to one of the tenants.

But when the issue of whether the units were covered by the city ordinance became clouded, disagreement arose over how much or whether assistance would be offered.

``That's questionable right now whether they are subject to relocation (assistance). We don't know,'' Frasco said in an interview.

This did not mean that assistance would not be forthcoming, but that the owners ``are trying to do the right thing. They are like anyone else, they don't want to spend money they don't have to,'' he said.

It's still not clear what status the renters have and it eventually might take the courts to straighten it all out.

James Hildebrandt, manager of billing and compliance for rent stabilization in the city's housing department, admits to being puzzled by the situation.

``Do the units fall under the rent stabilization ordinance? It is not an absolute answer, but our belief is they do not. In a situation where there is ambiguity we're not . . . to make findings of fact. We're . . . to enforce the law.''

He did ask the City Attorney's Office to look into the matter, but the situation did not get any clearer.

``In this particular case I believe there is a factual dispute as to the property itself,'' said Deputy City Attorney Carmen Hawkins. ``It is my understanding the county did something with it and I don't have a clue (how to resolve the issue) because there is a conflict and it's something a court would have to determine.''

The property, once part of the Lankershim Ranch Land & Water Co., one of the key players in the San Fernando Valley's early development, is indeed out of step with modern times.

The land was first developed in 1947 and eventually became a leasehold, one party owning the land and others owning the homes. Today, the units are surrounded by multistory apartment buildings and condominiums.

Some owners lived in the homes for a time, sold them or rented them out.

But when the lease expires, that's it.

What happens to the homes is up to the new landowner, Corteen Village LLC.

Jeff Vice bought one of the units in the early 1990s and lived in it for a while before moving out of state. The price he paid seemed like a good deal since the mortgage would be less than renting an apartment.

He moved to Oregon in 1996 and today, for a while at least, is Roszak's landlord.

``There was nothing I could really do with it so I rented it out,'' he said.

Further complicating the issue is that property records now show that he also owns the land under his house, a situation he maintains is not correct.

And he was charged back taxes.

``This has really just been a nightmare,'' he said.

He's not too happy with Corteen Village, either.

``They offered me a dollar for the house. They said by law we have to make you an offer. It's really weird, man,'' he said.

Corteen Village succeeded in getting some tenants to move. In the meantime, the remaining tenants convinced West Los Angeles Attorney Richard G. Sherman to take up their causes.

A paralegal has been writing letters and talking to city officials on the tenants' behalf.

A packet of evidence supporting the tenants' position was sent to Hildebrandt a week ago and was forwarded to the City Attorney's Office.

By late Friday afternoon the city had not responded to it.

Meanwhile, Frasco said Corteen Village was still working out relocation settlements with five families that lived in bungalows owned by the partnership.

City Councilman Michael Feuer's office has also been asked to look into the matter.

Officials there said it looks like as far as this complex and the rent stabilization ordinance are concerned it just fell through one of those bureaucratic cracks.

``Whether or not technically this property fell under the rent stabilization ordinance it (is) clear to us it would be appropriate and the right thing to do to help these tenants to the extent they would normally need help under rent stabilization,'' said a Feuer deputy, Sharon Mayer. ``If they are not covered, it is merely a technicality.''

CAPTION(S):

2 photos, map

Photo:

(1 -- color) Residents of Corteen Village in North Hollywood are angry at eviction and uncertain whether they can count on help from the landlord or the city.

(2 -- color) Jose Garcia walks past one of his neighbors' homes in Corteen Village, where new owners are taking over soon.

Joe Binoya/Special to the Daily News

Map: Proposed housing demolition
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Dec 17, 2000
Words:1328
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