Termites, housing and LAHD

You might be wondering how termites and the Housing Department intersect. I’m going to tell you.

First, a bit about termites: In Southern California, most structures are constructed from wood. This is because wood is cheap, durable, and holds up well in earthquakes (because it’s flexible). The main downside to wood construction, which is that wood deteriorates rapidly in damp conditions, is irrelevant in our desert-like climate. So wood is great for SoCal, except… termites love to eat it and they will, given enough opportunity.

In order to stop termites from eating buildings, you tent them periodically. For $3-8k (depending on the size of the building), a company comes, puts up a gigantic tent over the structure, and pumps the tent (and, thus, the structure) full of gas that poisons termites and other insects.

The problem with this procedure is that no one can be in the building for the 2-3 days it takes to tent it.

With single family homes, this is not a big deal. The family goes to a hotel or grandma’s or whatever for a few days and the job is done.

With apartment buildings, it’s a disaster. Why? Because you need to coordinate removing all of the tenants from the building at the same time, housing them somewhere, and then returning them to the building thereafter.

Given that termite tenting is necessary for the continued existence of a building, you would think that LAHD would have a simple procedure for ensuring that would:

  • Allow the landlord to get tenants out of her building to tent it; and
  • Require the landlord to compensate the tenants for the inconvenience and expense

Does the housing department have such a policy? Of course not.

So, what happens is that each time a building needs to be tented, the landlord needs to engage in a whole round of negotiation with his tenants in order to get them to move out for a few days. The result is bruised feelings, untented buildings, and tenants who (because they don’t know their rights) receive less-than-fair compensation.

Given the city’s demonstrable interest in preserving its aging stock of wood-framed apartment buildings, you’d think LAHD would sort this out, but I’m not holding my breath.