LA plots out plan of attack on illegal housing after Oakland fire

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Top law enforcement officers in Los Angeles met Tuesday to plot a plan of attack on unpermitted housing in the wake of the deadly warehouse fire in Oakland. 

The idea is to be more proactive on policing problem real estate, and to rely less on residents to make complaints, said City Attorney Mike Feuer, following an afternoon meeting with officials from the city’s fire, police and building and safety departments.

“As opposed to being reactive, we would take unilateral action, and we’re looking at what would trigger that level of scrutiny,” he said.  

Kristin Crowley, the city's acting Fire Marshal, said one possibility is going beyond the annual inspections her department performs on large structures such as warehouses, and add on spot checks.

"We could send our inspectors back and do a quick walk-through of the property to make sure it’s being used for what it’s zoned and permitted for," Crowley said.

Feuer said protecting tenants who live in illegal units is a top priority. Instead of just notifying the landlord of an unsafe structure, tenants should be apprised of their dangerous living conditions, Feuer said. And, he added, if tenants are forced to leave a shuttered building, there needs to be assurances they will have somewhere else to live.

Feuer acknowledged that cracking down on non-permitted units is "hugely challenging" in a city the size of Los Angeles.

But, "we can't live in a city where people choose to live in unsafe properties at tremendous peril to themselves and to others in L.A.," he said.

While the law enforcement officials were focused on illegal housing units, at least one city official wanted more enforcement of spaces that are illegally used for events. Councilmember José Huizar last week introduced a proposal that would have the fire and building and safety departments report on what they are doing "to ensure that buildings that serve high occupancy and/or event spaces are safe and up to fire/building and safety codes citywide."

While authorities crack down on illegal housing, Crowley said Angelenos need to stay vigilant when they go to places of questionable safety.

"Always look at the lighting, look at the exits, the stairwells," Crowley said "Look and see if there are fire alarms and fire lane safety systems in place. That will allow you to get out safely in case there’s an emergency."

Crowley said if a building has safety deficiencies, "you have to really think, 'Do I need to be here?"

Crowley said it was important to report safety problems to the city. The public can do so by calling 311 or making a complaint here

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