Artists and others living in an allegedly illegal downtown warehouse that's the site of suspected fire code violations were under orders by the city to vacate the property by today. The residents' next move was an open question, and they pleaded with the Los Angeles City Council for help.

City Hall came to the rescue with nearly $400,000 in relocation assistance for those who lived at 931 E. Pico Blvd., the artists' warehouse, and 1518 S. Paloma St., another allegedly illegal building a few blocks away. And the deadline to leave was extended to Wednesday, thanks to the office of local city Councilman José Huizar. Both Fashion District buildings are owned by Morad “Ben” Neman, who residents say has refused to pay the assistance, required under city law when residents are subject to “order to vacate” notices.

At the behest of Huizar, the council yesterday voted unanimously to front the money to the tenants because they need to find another place to live ASAP. The owner, subject to legal action by the City Attorney's Office, will be pressed in court to reimburse the money, according to Huizar's office.

After working with the chief legislative analyst, the city administrative officer and the council's finance chair, Councilman Paul Krekorian, Huizar's office found the money — $382,850 — and got it approved via an emergency motion. The funds include $7,900 to $19,700 per tenant. The amounts are determined by the length of a resident's tenancy.

“Today’s vote was critical in preventing residents caught in legal proceedings at no fault of their own from becoming homeless,” Huizar said via email. “This is exactly what we should be utilizing these type of funds for.”

Following the deadly Ghost Ship fire in Oakland last year, the Los Angeles Fire Department determined that the L.A. buildings are allegedly illegal dwellings, according to the councilman. The LAFD ordered the structures closed, and tenants were told to vacate.

The Pico building was subject to criminal allegations in December that the owner allowed the warehouse to be converted illegally to a residential structure, that fire escapes could not be accessed and that the fire alarms were inadequate.

LA Weekly