Business & Economy

Amnesty offered to LA's unpermitted apartments

The Los Angeles City Council has created a way to legalize non-permitted apartments.
The Los Angeles City Council has created a way to legalize non-permitted apartments.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Los Angeles city officials on Wednesday passed a plan to legalize unpermitted units in apartment buildings as a way to help ease the city's housing crunch.

This is a policy reversal for the city, which shut down more than 1,700 illegal apartments between 2010 and 2015 that landlords had created by walling off a laundry room or a common area, for example.

Housing advocates had argued those actions by housing officials hurt families that were forced out through no fault of their own.

"The city has had what I view as a bad practice for years of finding the units, kicking out the tenants and vacating them and wiping out affordable housing that would have cost us hundreds of millions of dollars to build if we were trying to create it," Councilmember Paul Koretz said.

Now, the city will legalize an apartment if it meets standards for safety and other measures, and if the landlord is willing to rent that unit – or another one – at below market rates.  

To be eligible for legalization, a unit had to have existed as of December 10, 2015 and be free of any code violations.

The new law does not apply to rental units in single-family homes, or backyard homes built without permits.

A group representing Los Angeles landlords and housing advocates helped craft the amnesty plan for bootleg apartments.

But Fred Sutton, who focuses on governmental affairs for the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, said the requirement that units stay affordable for 55 years is asking too much.

"Our concern is that people won’t necessarily come forward or they might convert their laundry room back into a laundry room," Sutton said.  

Sutton hopes the affordability requirement will be revisited in a year, when city officials are supposed to check back and see how the new ordinance is working.