Right now, if the Housing Department catches a landlord with an illegal apartment, here’s what happens:
- LAHD cites landlord for un-permitted unit, orders her to either get it permitted or vacate it
- Landlord attempts to permit; discovers that it’s nearly impossible to do (because adding a unit always requires adding parking and adding parking is nearly impossible)
- Landlord decides to vacate unit
- Tenant is evicted; receives $8-19k from landlord (ouch), who must also pay to remove the kitchen and bathroom
The net result of the above is that the tenant is out a place to live and the landlord is out a bunch of money and receiving less rent going forward.
You can see why landlords and tenants have an incentive to band together to try to change city policy. And, lo and behold, they’re trying: The idea is to get the city to make it easier for the landlord to bring the unit into compliance so that the tenant can stay.
I’ve permitted a non-conforming unit before and it’s no joke. The problems break down into two categories:
- Bringing the unit itself up to code. That means appropriate ingress/egress, windows, fire protection, etc. This is almost always possible to do, so long as there is sufficient money… and the value-add from adding a unit would almost always justify the cost;
- Adding the parking. In my case, I was able to squeeze in another parking space by moving a giant electrical panel at the cost of $30k. But, generally, this is impossible, because there’s just not enough space on the lot and digging out subterranean parking would be totally financially infeasible.
So here’s the rub: If the city is going to make it easier to permit non-conforming units, it’s going to have to waive the parking requirements. And the city has generally been very wary of anything that would reduce parking and therefore anger neighbors.
Have rents got so high that politicians are willing to consider allowing alienating homeowners by allowing landlords to reconfigure existing buildings to add more units? I doubt it. But I hope I’m wrong… because my business would get much, much better if it did!