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89.3 KPCC

Friday June 12, 2015

LA Leaders Consider 'Amnesty' Plan for Unauthorized Apartments

By Josie Huang

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes wants to legalize non-permitted apartment units that are deemed safe and affordable. Mae Ryan/KPCC

PLANNING LA-The LA City Council's housing committee is debating a plan to legalize unauthorized apartment units as a way to boost the city's supply of affordable housing.

The proposal would initially focus on so-called 'bootleg' units in multi-family apartment buildings which, over the years, have been cited for not having the proper building permits, and then shutdown by LA code enforcement officers during periodic compliance checks.

Under the proposal by the housing committee, the city would work with landlords who own these units, to bring them up to code, so that they can be offered to residents, at affordable rates.

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, who co-introduced the proposal, said Los Angeles needs more housing for its residents, and this is one way to bring vacant units to code, and into the housing supply.

He admitted, though, this proposal only tackles part of the "bootleg" problem in Los Angeles. The bigger issue, at least in his San Fernando Valley district, is the illegal conversions of garages on single-family lots. He said the city doesn't have a system of checking for garage conversions.

"We have more information on apartment buildings," Fuentes said. "The garage conversions are going to be much tougher to deal with, and we’ll deal with that when we get this one right."

Fuentes' proposal was conceived with help from an unlikely coalition of tenants and landlord groups.

"It's a win-win situation," said Larry Gross, who represents tenants as head of the Coalition for Economic Survival.

Gross said landlords would "not be fearful of being cited, and their property value would go up because they have an extra unit. From the tenant's perspective, affordable housing would be saved."

The plan's supporters say under a housing 'amnesty,' some 1,700 unauthorized apartments that had been taken off-line after receiving citations between 2010 and 2015 could be returned to the market.

Passing an ordinance legalizing non-permitted apartments would put LA in the company of San Francisco and Santa Monica, which have policies like this.

Jim Clarke, executive vice president of the Apartment Association of Greater LA, said that many of these units in question were converted 20 years ago.

"Folks were looking at a way to create more housing and obviously enhance their bottom line," Clarke said. "In many case they were converting rec rooms or offices that were in their buildings used by a manager into liveable units. It was very, very easy."

Because they tend to be small, these apartments are priced affordably. Clarke estimated that rent for these units ranged between $800 to $1,300 a month.

Fuentes, who introduced the proposal with Councilmember Paul Koretz, said the committee would take up the issue again after the council returns from summer recess in July.

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