Complying with the City of Los Angeles’s New Earthquake Retrofitting Laws

by S.V. Stuart Johnson Esq. | Partner  and Ryan Davis, Esq.

If you are a landlord in Los Angeles, you may have recently received a letter from the City of Los Angeles demanding you comply with vague earthquake retrofitting requirements.  The requirements may seem overwhelming.  But with a short review of the applicable law, one may determine whether the requirements apply, when one needs to comply with them, and how to comply.

On October 9, 2015, the City enacted sweeping earthquake regulations, requiring thousands of buildings to be retrofitted so they will better withstand earthquakes.  In 2016, the City began to send landlords letters with notice they must comply with seismic retrofit Ordinance #183893.  But the letters provide very little guidance.  Further, landlords must comply with the Ordinance even if they do not receive a letter.  Landlords who may be impacted by the seismic retrofit Ordinance should now take a few steps.

First, determine whether the ordinance, codified as Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 91.9301, et seq. (the “Code”), actually applies to your building.  The Code only applies to buildings which contain ground floor parking or similar open floor space with one or more stories above that space, and were built with wood-frame construction under building code standards enacted on or after January 1, 1978.  Landlords are excused from complying with the Code if their building contains three dwelling units or less and is used solely for residential purposes.  If you received a letter from the City but do not meet these requirements, contact the City to correct the mistake.

If the Code does apply to you, you must follow a step-by-step process.  By March 1, 2017, you must submit to the City Department of Building and Safety a structural analysis and construction plan for the building that demonstrates the building either:  (1) meets or exceeds the City’s structural requirements as is; or (2) will meet or exceed the City’s structural requirements after specific structural alterations are implemented.

If you need to take alterations to your building, you must then obtain all necessary permits for the rehabilitation by March 1, 2018.  Finally, by March 1, 2023, you must complete construction under all necessary permits.

The cost of expensive renovations may understandably concern you.  Fortunately, the City Council unanimously voted to allow landlords to pass half the cost of retrofitting onto their tenants via rent increases of up to $38 per month.  But you must enact the rent increases in a permissible manner, especially in rent-controlled areas of the City.

This may seem like a lot to handle.  The City dictated strict rehabilitation requirements with very little guidance to landlords on what must be done.  However, legal counsel well-versed in the new Code should be able to navigate you through the specific requirements applicable to your building.

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