‘ Boot­legged’ hous­ing on path to le­gal­iza­tion

Los Angeles Times - - BUSINESS - By Emily Alpert Reyes

Illegal or “boot­legged” apart­ments — dwellings cre­ated with­out city per­mits — could soon get a smoother path to le­gal­iza­tion as Los An­ge­les law­mak­ers grap­ple with a hous­ing cri­sis that has priced many An­ge­lenos out of de­cent homes.

The City Coun­cil voted Tues­day to move for­ward with a plan to make the process of le­gal­iz­ing boot­legged apart­ments swifter and eas­ier, and asked city lawyers to start draft­ing an or­di­nance. Coun­cil­man Felipe Fuentes, who cham­pi­oned the plan, said the city needs to bring such units out of the shad­ows.

“There is a hous­ing cri­sis and an ab­so­lute need here,” Fuentes said.

The idea was born out of an un­usual al­liance of land­lords and ten­ant ad­vo­cates, who com­plain that Los An­ge­les of­fi­cials have been shut­ter­ing hun­dreds of apart­ments an­nu­ally, many of them safe and liv­able, while An­ge­lenos strug­gle to find hous­ing they can af­ford.

Be­tween 2010 and 2015, more than 1,700 illegal apart­ments were elim­i­nated af­ter be­ing dis­cov­ered by city in­spec­tors. Such units can al­ready be le­gal­ized un­der city

rules and may be oth­er­wise hab­it­able, but land­lords say the process is so dif­fi­cult that many are sim­ply shut down and ten­ants evicted.

“The hous­ing depart­ment is sup­posed to be cre­at­ing hous­ing, not tak­ing it off the mar­ket,” said Jim Clarke, ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent of the Apart­ment Assn. of Greater Los An­ge­les.

Clarke said the plan would pre­serve hous­ing for ten­ants and save land­lords from pay­ing city charges to re­lo­cate them.

But the ten­ta­tive plan trou­bles some L. A. res­i­dents, who see it as a re­ward for vi­o­lat­ing the law. They worry about whether neigh­bor­hoods have enough park­ing and green space for un­planned units.

“Mak­ing illegal units le­gal does not solve the prob­lem,” said El­iz­a­beth Pol­lock, pres­i­dent of the Del Rey Res­i­dents Assn. “It does not help us to have un­planned den­sity crammed into our neigh­bor­hoods.”

Back­ers of the pro­posal counter that it would not in­crease den­sity be­cause it would only le­git­imize apart­ments that al­ready ex­ist. City of­fi­cials said the chance to le­gal­ize an apart­ment would only be of­fered for a lim­ited time, to pre­vent peo­ple from il­le­gally cre­at­ing new units and try­ing to le­gal­ize them.

In many cases, the bar­ri­ers to le­gal­iza­tion are not build­ing prob­lems, but plan­ning or zon­ing re­quire­ments that man­date a min­i­mum num­ber of park­ing spa­ces or re­strict the num­ber of units on the lot.

Un­der the ten­ta­tive plan, city plan­ners would use a check­list to make sure that boot­legged units did not cre­ate a nui­sance in their neigh­bor­hoods. Apart­ments con­sid­ered a nui­sance would still have a shot at be­com­ing le­gal, but would have to go through a longer, more in­volved process that would in­clude giv­ing neigh­bors a chance to ap­peal. No apart­ment could be le­gal­ized if it vi­o­lated health and safety codes, ac­cord­ing to the city pro­posal.

How­ever, the city would de­lay im­pos­ing some f ines and other penal­ties while a land­lord was in the process of f ix­ing up a unit to try to make it le­gal.

“We’ve got peo­ple liv­ing in de­plorable con­di­tions, il­le­gally, in con­verted units,” said Coun­cil­man Mitch Eng­lan­der, who said he had heard from some res­i­dents wor­ried about the plan. “This will pro­vide that safety mech­a­nism, le­gal­ize them, pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity for them to live safely.”

Some of the most sen­si­tive de­tails of the plan re­main un­clear. Law­mak­ers said land­lords would have to pro­vide some af­ford­able hous­ing to le­gal­ize units, but the ex­act re­quire­ments have not been spelled out.

Fuentes also said park­ing rules could be re­laxed if apart­ments were close to transit hubs, but city lawyers still have to ham­mer out how that would work. Those de­tails will be in­cluded in a draft or­di­nance that will re­turn to the coun­cil for ap­proval.

The new rules would only ap­ply to illegal units in apart­ment build­ings, not con­verted garages or other boot­legged hous­ing shoe­horned into lots zoned for sin­gle- fam­ily homes, de­spite the fact that city of­fi­cials be­lieve the bulk of illegal hous­ing city­wide ex­ists on such lots.

Fuentes said he hoped to ul­ti­mately tackle that prob­lem, but de­cided to ad­dress apart­ment build­ings f irst be­cause they were al­ready in­spected regularly by the city.

Clarke said that in­clud­ing con­verted garages in the or­di­nance could be a “poi­son pill” for many home­owner groups wor­ried about le­gal­iz­ing such units.

Adam Mur­ray, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of In­ner City Law Cen­ter, praised the vote as “a re­mark­able mo­ment.”

“It is very un­usual that you have the land­lords and the ten­ant ac­tivists in the city on the same page,” Mur­ray said.

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