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Glendale News Press

Saturday July 16, 2016

Some Local Landlords Are Retrofitting Their Properties Before The Next Big Earthquake

By Arin Mikailian

Construction workers seismically retrofit an apartment building in Montrose on Friday. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer)

Following the adoption of a Los Angeles ordinance requiring landlords to seismically retrofit their buildings over the next seven years, a small group of local property owners has taken the initiative to boost the safety of their own buildings ahead of the next major earthquake.

While there's no retrofitting requirement on the books in Glendale, property manager David Schultz has encouraged his landlords to make their buildings more earthquake ready and refers to a 2003 collapse in Paso Robles that killed two people.

The types of properties that L.A. officials and Schultz have been targeting are "soft story" structures, meaning they have multiple stories built over a parking garage.

One of Schultz's landlords, Mark Boyd, has owned a 20-unit building at 1256 Boynton St. for many years and said the decision to move forward with retrofitting was an obvious one.

Construction workers seismically retrofit an apartment building in Montrose on Friday. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer)

"We owe it to the tenants. The tenants' safety is priority No. 1," Boyd said.

He added that the process of getting approvals from the city and the construction effort to reinforce his building took a few months.

Boyd's tenants couldn't park in the garage during the day, but were allowed to do so once work was done by the evening.

As for cost to seismically retrofit, it's ranged between $100,000 and $200,000, Schultz said. About a dozen of the structures he manages in Glendale have undergone a retrofit and there's about 15 more to go, he said.

When it comes to the price, the landlords have agreed with him that earthquake readiness is worth the cost. He once again brought up the Paso Robles example, which resulted in a $2-million settlement.

"My owners have millions worth of equity," he said. "When the cost of retrofitting is between $100,000 and $200,000 and you compare that against the sizeable equity that they have, it's not worth the risk."

One way retrofitting is a money-saver is that it allows landlords to ditch earthquake insurance, Schultz added.

For landlords like Boyd, they're relying mostly on financing to pay for the retrofits. He said he isn't passing down the cost of the project on to his tenants.

But that doesn't mean other landlords wouldn't want to speed up the cost recoup.

In Los Angeles, following the passage of an ordinance that identified 13,500 apartment buildings in need of a seismic retrofit, there was a stipulation added that landlords couldn't raise rent by more than $38 a month to pay for the safety improvement.

That was somewhat of a victory for Larry Gross, executive director of tenant advocacy group Coalition for Economic Survival, because he was worried landlords could charge as much as $75 more a month.

Construction workers seismically retrofit an apartment building in Montrose on Friday. (Roger Wilson / Staff Photographer)

There's one key reason, however, that such protection might not work in Glendale.

Los Angeles, unlike Glendale, has rent control and without it, it's meaningless for a city to adopt a retrofitting ordinance, Gross said.

"Given the fact there's no rent control, renters are totally vulnerable to being saddled with significant increases that might result in forcing them out of their homes," he said.

While there's no movement at City Hall at the moment on a retrofitting ordinance, there could be a discussion on the topic by the end of the year, said City Manager Scott Ochoa.

Up first would be a discussion about rent affordability in Glendale, and there will be a City Council discussion on the topic in the coming weeks, he said. That talk will likely revolve around the length of time in advance a landlord must notify their tenant about increasing rent and whether a rent spike should trigger a building inspection.

Boyd, however, said he thinks the choice to take on a project should ultimately be up to landlords.

"I don't think anybody wants to be forced to do something that's going to cost them a significant amount of money," he said. "I think everybody has to individually make up their minds."

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