Bad news about open ceilings in LA apartments

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Have some bad news for those of you who love vaulted ceilings in apartments… they’re almost always illegal in LA.

First, what do I mean by vaulted ceilings? They’re the ones where you can look up and see the structure of the roof. Here’s an example:

valuted ceiling

Beautiful, right? So, why should that be illegal?

Two reasons:

  1. There’s almost certainly no insulation. Usually, insulation goes between the drywall that you see in a normal ceiling and the plywood supporting the roof. If there’s no drywall, it almost always means no insulation (unless the owner installed a foam roof over the top of the original one, a step that few owners take). No insulation violates CA and LA building codes.
  2. No fire separation between the living space and the wood supporting the roof. In a fire, without drywall to protect them, those roof members would burn quickly, potentially bringing the roof down on the heads of any people still inside the building.

We know people love ceilings like this, so we have occasionally gone to the trouble of making them with permits. It’s super-painful, which is why I know that almost all of the exposed ceilings you see in LA apartment buildings are un-permitted.

With single family homes, having some un-permitted work is not the end of the world, because no city inspectors enter your home. But, with an apartment building, every 2-3 years the Housing Department inspects. If the particular inspector you get knows the building code (many don’t), you’re screwed.

So, unless you’re prepared to spend a lot of money either returning the ceiling to its original condition (and thereby making your units uglier and damaging your rent roll) or jumping through the hoops necessary to permit the open ceilings, avoid these buildings.

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