Is This Hollywood Hostel Even Legal?

C.C. de Vere

C.C. de Vere

· 6 min read
Street View, dated July 2017, of the "Melrose Hostel", aka four misappropriated apartments.

East Hollywood is gentrifying at a rapid clip, and the Melrose Hill subsection, bordering Paramount, Hollywood Forever, and Larchmont Village, seems to be bearing the brunt of that.

Consider the case of 646 N. Western Avenue. Built in 1922 as four apartments over a ground-floor storefront, it was apparently converted into a hostel sometime between February 2017 and July 2017.

Here's the thing: legally, you can't just take four apartments off the housing market and replace them with MORE tourist lodging. We need housing to stay housing. We already have a very generous number of hotels for tourists.

I checked ZIMAS for the dirt, of course.

Did anyone bother to go through each and every single one of the proper channels? I doubt it, since the only related permit application on file is recent (March-April 2024) and has NOT been approved.

People DO know they need permits to alter existing buildings, right? (Not that it ever stops anyone in Los Angeles.)

No one got a permit to do a conversion in 2017; why bother with one now? It won't magically make the changes to the building legal.

Speaking of legality...according to ZIMAS, 646 N. Western is subject to SB 8, which requires NO NET LOSS OF HOUSING. (Here's what that means.) Calling it a "boarding house", which the not-approved permit application does, won't magically take away the fact that four apartments were taken off the rental market so someone could make EVEN MORE money on them.

And do not get me started on the "boarding house" wording, which I consider misleading. My great-grandmother ran a real boarding house on the Westside many years ago (it was torn down in the 1970s after her death). She did not rent rooms to tourists. Her tenants were older single women or older widows like herself - full-time locals of limited means, not visitors.

The building is on a relatively small lot with no place to build replacement units, so where the hell are the four replacement apartments? Simple - there aren't any, and the city is unlikely to make the owner comply.

Oh, and the building is (surprisingly) not subject to RSO. Whoever owns it therefore doesn't even have to follow RSO law, meaning they can charge renters whatever the market will bear. But apparently that's not enough for the owner.

The permit refers to the building being in the "Adaptive Reuse Incentive Area". Yeah, this isn't what I would call adaptive reuse. This looks an awful lot like somebody chose to ignore SB 8 for profit. Proper adaptive reuse of this building, to me, would look more like converting one or both of the ground-floor storefronts into additional units.

How many times do I have to point out that it is just not okay to take away badly needed housing in Los Angeles during a housing usage crisis?

Are any former tenants of the building out there? Does anyone know how this was even allowed to happen?

Anyway, I decided to take a closer look at the business.

I searched for "Melrose Hostel" on the California Secretary of State's online portal. No results. That's weird.

I ran a DBA (doing business as) search for Melrose Hostel. No results. That's weird too.

I checked Corporation Wiki. Nothing. That's REALLY weird; they dig up EVERYONE's connections. (Note: when I obtained the owner's name, I checked it in Corporation Wiki and discovered that it's not linked to the hostel - but it IS linked to a store that is located on the ground floor.)

I checked the County Clerk's database and found that the name Melrose Hostel was registered May 3, 2022. Fictitious business names expire every five years in LA County, so that in and of itself probably isn't weird, assuming it's a renewal of a 2017 registration.

What IS weird is that all online real estate records requests have to go through LexisNexis, and the link leads to a 503 error message. While this is likely just a technical issue, it sure felt like a needless obstacle. I had to call in a records request on my lunch break.

I submitted a public records request for any business licenses associated with the hostel, and the Office of Finance delivered: there is a tax registration certificate for the hostel, effective April 2017, specifically for "transient occupancy tax". Not apartments or a boarding house - transient lodging.

The Planning Department had some useful information as well: records of three business permit applications (two inactive, with the most recent one denied), and a home-sharing registration certificate that EXPIRED IN JANUARY.

Oh, and the Planning Department told me "...please be advised that the property is currently not authorized to conduct short-term rentals."

(I also reached out to the Department of Cultural Affairs to inquire about the legality of the murals, but have not received a response. I happen to love murals, but the rules have to apply across the board. Otherwise there is no point in having them.)

Is the Melrose Hostel even legal? From the information available to me, I am not convinced anything about it is.

Now here's the bigger question: how exactly does one get the city to do something about it?

646 N. Western Avenue, Melrose Hill.

Join the discussion!

C.C. de Vere

About C.C. de Vere

C.C. is a fourth-generation Angeleno and is horrified at what greed and hubris are doing to Los Angeles.

This website was built by her preservation pals at Esotouric.

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