Approximately 15 years ago, San Francisco adopted an earthquake retrofit program.  Through litigation, it was determined that substantially all of the benefit accrued only to tenants.  Tenants were assessed 100% of the costs, amortized over 10 years with a cap of approximately $60 per month.

Los Angeles City adopted a similar program wherein the tenants contributed 50%, with a cap of $39.  West Hollywood and Santa Monica refused to allocate any of the expense to tenants.

In San Francisco, approximately 10 years, during a construction project, tenants demanded and insisted that their rent be adjusted and discounted for the “inconvenience” associated with the noise, debris and dust.  It was ligated and the tenants lost.

On appeal, the tenants lost again.  The court found that where a government or municipality mandates and requires a “health and safety” protocol be instituted or required, then tenants need to accept and suffer a slight to moderate inconvenience because the construction was not “discretionary” with the owner, but it was government imposed.  No damages were permitted or allowed.  This is settled law.

Four years ago, when we discussed rent control, we all recognized and accepted that if a rent control protocol was adopted, owners would be forced to retrofit their tuck-under parking.  None of us was innocent or naïve.  We certainly recognized the potential.  Furthermore, we agreed that this is a health and safety measure so Los Angeles City employed (for a term of one year from Cal Tech), scientist Lucy Jones.  She explained that the retrofit program was merely a “shelter in place” measure and would provide some protection for the tenants; however, the building itself might suffer modest damage.

Help Protect Owners!

Responsible owners know they have to do the work.  There are many dozens of fraudulent and deceptive contractors with no experience and who attempt to exploit this situation.   Protect the owners.

  • First, the building permit fee, if any, should be waived.
  • Second, your outreach program should tell all of the tenants that the modest dust, noise and inconvenience of parking their vehicle on the street for a few weeks has to be recognized and otherwise accepted.
  • Next, get a fast-track building permit program where the permit can be issued over the counter or within 48 hours.

It Gets Even More Expensive!

Remember, all of this construction is done on the exterior and doesn’t impact any of the apartments.  Never.  It gets expensive because when you pull down the ceilings in the garages, you begin to observe that many of the galvanized water pipes are rusted and corroded.  Yes, the owner is going to need to remove those old pipes and install new copper piping with brass fittings.  This is incredibly expensive.  Very expensive.  Even Home Depot has indicated that lumber has gone up almost 200% or more.

Next, I think the target is approximately $5,000 per parking bay, and all the responsible contractors create moment frames and strapping and shear walls where you never, under any circumstances, lose a parking space.

The projects can be completed in approximately five to six weeks if you use a responsible company.  Remember, there are probably four dozen companies that know nothing about this work and they prey upon owners.

Our friends in the insurance industry give no consideration or discount for doing the work.  None.  In fact, the intrinsic value of the property doesn’t go up.

High Vacancy Factor

Rental units in Playa Vista, Playa del Rey, Westchester, Marina del Rey, Del Rey, Mar Vista, Palms and Culver City are in demand regardless of whether you do the work.  Real estate is expensive in California.  The earthquake retrofit or the installation of copper piping or a new roof will not impact the value of the units.

So … there’s a high vacancy factor.  These tenants have not been paying market rent because of the rent freeze and eviction moratorium.  Some tenants have been living in units since March 2020 without paying any rent.  The subsidy programs with the state and federal government are so difficult that you need to be trained as a computer scientist at MIT to understand the program.

Conclusion

If you’re going to do earthquake retrofit, the tenants must contribute.  No claims for damages or violation of quiet enjoyment.  The building permit fee at the city needs to be waived and the consideration of the plans by the city is not to exceed 48 hours.  Keep it simple.

Michael Millman is an Attorney and a Mar Vista activist and can be reached at (310) 477-1201.