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Los Angeles Daily News

Tuesday May 10, 2016

LA City Council Backs Plan To Legalize 'Bootleg' Apartments

By Dakota Smith

Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes spearheaded a law that would allow landlords to gain permits for an illegal apartment unit in return for providing affordable housing anywhere on the property for a 55-year period.

Illegal apartments are easy to find in Los Angeles, as landlords divide up loft spaces to make multiple units or turn storage spaces into tiny studios.

Now, Los Angeles City Hall leaders want to legalize those units – called "bootleg" apartments - to help ease the city's housing crisis.

Sparking some opposition, the Los Angeles City Council tentatively approved a law Tuesday allowing landlords to gain permits for an illegal apartment unit in return for providing affordable housing for a 55-year period anywhere on the property.

Backers said the proposed law would ease L.A.'s housing shortage while encouraging landlords to bring their buildings up to code. Los Angeles City Councilman Felipe Fuentes, who spearheaded the law, called the ordinance a "win-win-win for the city, the tenants, and the property owners."

Under the plan, which must return to the City Council for a final vote, either the original illegal unit or another apartment unit on a landlord's site could be turned into low- or moderate-income housing.

In some cases, the parking requirement for the additional unit would also be waived.

The law targets neighborhoods with apartment buildings, and isn't applicable in Los Angeles' single-family housing zones. Also, owners must prove the units that they want to legalize existed as of Dec. 10, 2015.

About 400 to 500 illegal housing units are removed each year following city inspections of multi-family units, according to a city report. After inspections, landlords often pull the unit off the market, rather than pay the fees associated with legalizing the apartment.

In some cases, legalization can cost up to $20,000 in city fees, the report states.

Of the 2,560 non-permitted units cited by city enforcement agencies between 2010 and 2015, only 201 unit were ultimately legalized.

Jim Clarke, a consultant with the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said the 55-year covenant to make the apartments affordable is too onerous for landowners because they will lose out financially for decades.

Clarke said that his group originally proposed permitting illegal units in L.A., based on a similar Santa Monica law. Later, the affordable housing requirement was added to the Los Angeles ordinance.

"They've hijacked the whole proposal," he said, of the city's Planning Department. "We were hoping they would just let people get their permits."

But Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a renters' rights group, praised the new law.

"Tenants benefit because they're not displaced, and any code violations get corrected," Gross said.

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