CITY HALL — Hoping to overturn a court ruling they say would hurt affordable housing in Santa Monica and throughout the state, City Hall lawyers plan to ask the California Supreme Court to review the Embassy Hotel Apartments case, which an appellate court decided against the city last month.

The move is the last available option for City Hall to fight the appellate ruling, which said the Embassy’s owner could remove 19 units from the housing market despite having previously agreed to continue operating the units as rent-controlled apartments.

At issue is how the Ellis Act, the state law that bars jurisdictions from requiring landlords to stay in the rental business, applies to certain contracts.

In the Embassy case, the building’s owner had agreed to offer half of its total units as affordable apartments to resolve a prior land use dispute with City Hall. The appellate court, though, said that provision of the settlement was “unenforceable” because it violated the landlord’s rights under the Ellis Act.

Besides reducing Santa Monica’s affordable housing stock, lawyers at City Hall said the appellate decision, handed down by a three-judge panel from the Second District, Division Five Court of Appeals, could “lead to unintended consequences to private agreements between tenants and landlords” statewide.

The decision, they said, could invalidate contracts in which landlords waived their Ellis rights in exchange for regulatory concessions, such as the right to build larger projects.

Stephen Lewis, public information manager for Santa Monica’s Rent Control Agency, said it’s rare but not unheard of for City Hall to ask the state’s highest court for review.

“It’s something that you would only do if you thought the legal issue was fairly momentous,” he said.

The Rent Control Agency’s general counsel, Michaelyn Jones, and lawyers in the City Attorney’s Office, plan to file the petition for review on Friday, he said.

Getting the state Supreme Court to accept a case, though, can be a tall order.

Lynn Holton, public information officer for the court, said in the past 10 years the justices have agreed to hear between 2 and 7 percent of the civil cases submitted each year for their review.

The court has received an average of about 3,500 petitions for review each of the past four years, she said.

The Supreme Court will have 90 days, including an optional 30-day extension period, to make a decision about whether to review the Embassy case.

The Embassy Hotel Apartments is a 38-unit residential building located at 1001 Third St. in the Wilmont neighborhood.

nickt@www.smdp.com

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