Court ruling forces LA to cut back on 'granny flat' permits

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Los Angeles has stopped issuing building permits for small backyard apartments after a judge ruled that the city has improperly approved potentially hundreds of "granny flats" in recent years.

The decision stemmed from a lawsuit several West L.A. residents filed against the city for allowing their neighbor to build a second home behind his house in Cheviot Hills. The plaintiffs argued that the city never properly adopted the standards used to grant the permit.

The Feb. 25 ruling by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge James Chalfant has forced other homeowners planning backyard units to put their projects on hold as city officials figure out their next step.

The lawsuit is focused on the city's 2010 decision to follow the state's granny flats law rather than L.A.'s ordinance. The state law is more lenient and allows bigger structures.

LA has a housing shortage and officials say granny flats create places to live without changing the look of a neighborhood the way say, a new high-rise, would.

But the plaintiffs argued in their 2014 suit that the city never formally adopted the switch to the state standards. Carlyle Hall is the land use lawyer who spearheaded the suit against the city and his neighbor Mark Judaken.

"Follow your adopted city standards," Hall said to KPCC. "If you want to change the standards, fine, the city has the power to do that."

Dan Freedman, a lawyer for Judaken, told the City Council's Housing Commitee Wednesday that the suit resulted from "a neighborhood dispute that has blown up and spun out of control and has created impacts for the whole city."

Some of the 379 granny flats approved in L.A. since 2010 are out of compliance — at least for now, according to the office of Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who chairs the housing commitee.

More than a dozen homeowners, architects and contractors complained to the housing panel that they're stuck in a holding pattern.

Anthony Nercessian of Tujunga said he has poured "every last penny" - $200,000 - into the granny flat he plans to build. 

"It’s not our fault," Nercessian said. "What am I going to do with this project, this empty land with retaining walls?"

Cedillo and the rest of the committee decided Wednesday to recommend the city repeal its existing granny flats law so that the city would be properly covered by the state law regulating those structures.

In a written statement, Cedillo called granny flats "extremely important as a tool to help us alleviate our housing crisis."

Randall Moses of Los Feliz, who also is building a granny flat, endorsed repealing the local law. He urged the council on Wednesday "to please adopt [the state law] and do it quickly, so we can get on with the things we already paid permits for."

The L.A. City Attorney's office declined comment on the case. Asked whether the city would appeal the court decision, spokesman Rob Wilcox said, "We're reviewing our options."

This story has been updated.

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