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Monday, December 22, 2014

Is this a cute “mini-bungalow” or an illegal Echo Park garage apartment?

Photo from Craigslist.org

The question is being posed in the comments to a Curbed L.A. post on an 190-square-foot  Echo Park apartment being rented out for $800.  As a  Curbed reader pointed out in the comments section, the apartment carved out of a garage is owned by Conrado Terrazas, who is working with State Assemblyman and City Council candidate Gil Cedillo.  A check of online property records for the Scott Avenue property describes it as a single residence. In the City of Los Angeles, apartments for rent must be registered with the city’s Housing Department. Said one commenter on Curbed:

This appears to be an illegal conversion. Highlighting this listing on Curbed is probably the last thing the homeowners/wannabe landlords want, but in this climate, with LAHD cracking down on bootleg units (as this one appears to be), homeowners are a bit nuts if they think they can get away with this.”

When asked if the apartment was permitted,  Terrazas, in an email, replied, “no comment.”



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49 comments

  1. The latest Google Street View of 1812 Scott doesn’t show any door or window in that garage and when you enter the address into the Building & Safety Property Report (https://www.permitla.org/ipars/The_nonscript_index.cfm) nothing current comes up. So…no comment.

  2. Bummer ’cause what a great deal!

  3. I wrote the comment on la.curbed.com that this article quotes; I posted it as a guest along with another comment (my comments are #5 and #11). You could call my vigilant attitude a perfect example of sour grapes; I own a rent-controlled property in L.A. and LAHD put me through hell over issues that had nothing to do whatsoever with tenant habitability.

    As I’ve written on this site before, I’m not prone to hyperbole, but what the LAHD put me through was a traumatic experience. If Mr. Terrazas works with the city, then how dare he think that he can get away with such unapproved construction when the rest of us have to suffer through repeated fines, fees and inspections for issues that don’t relate to tenant safety. Shame on him and all politicians who think the laws don’t apply to them.

    • Nearly everyone I know who’s had to deal with LAHD, LA Building & Safety, permitting, etc, has horror stories. And for better of worse, when you have stupid (and stupidly enforced) rules, it becomes an incentive for people to just ignore them and do a lot of unpermitted work.

    • It’s the worst organization I’ve ever encountered. I agree on the traumatizing. They have no regard for fairness or the law, they are bullies. Period.

  4. Obviously I’m not aware of the particulars of James’ situation, but I personally appreciate the stepped-up code enforcement by the city. In my case, they WERE things related to habitability.

    That said, this looks pretty bad. If it’s true that Mr. Terrazas — someone with so much experience in Los Angeles politics, and who even managed a rent control campaign in the city of El Monte — converted a garage without permits, and then tried to rent it out as a bootleg unit, it’s a real shame. He of all people should know what the law is, and how it’s an injustice to deny tenants the code enforcement protections that they deserve.

  5. The most outrageous thing is the owner expects the tenant to pay 1/3 of the utilities. That’s only fair if the main house is only 380 square feet.

  6. I note, if that unit is not attached to the house, then it is NOT under the city’s rent stabilization ordinance. The statement in the story that all rentals in the city must be registered is not correct.

    Yes, that ordinance says it covers all places with two or more units. But in another clause, it says it exempts single family houses.

    During the first year of rent control, the city issued it official interpretation of that, declaring that any unit that is not attached to others, that stands separate, is a single family house, and thus is exempt from rent control, even if there are two or more such detached units on a lot.

    Of course, that still doesn’t provide for an illegal conversion of a garage.

    • Single family housing is only exempted when you have one occupancy unit alone on the entire land piece containing it. When you bootleg, illegally convert, or rent your garage as a habitable space, it is not exempted, and the property falls under rent control jurisdiction. If rented, he’ll get tagged on habitability and not be able to readily evict the tenant to fix the situation.

      • Not so under the city’s official interpretation. That is YOUR interpretation. They say the single family housing exemption is not per lot, as you say.

        I’m not saying I’m in favor of the city’s interpretation, simply stating what it is. Frankly, I don’t see why ANY rental should be exempt, even new construction.

        As for evicting, that ordinance allows for good cause eviction in order to take the unit off the rental market. Oh, the landlord might have to pay the tenant a certain amount, but he still can evict. And he would have to evict because it does not have an occupancy permit.

        • LAHD and LADBS don’t always operate in concert with each other; if a property has two units on it, even if it’s a single-family residence according to LADBS, it might fall under rent control even if one of the units isn’t permitted. LAHD’s records may show 2 units even when LADBS’s records only show a single-family home. In my case, LAHD’s records originally showed 3 units – until 2008, when they cited me for a storage room that a previous owner had converted to a guest house.

          Now LADBS says my property is a single-family home – even though it’s on an R2 lot with parking for both tenants, separate addresses, and even though I received permits for two separate electrical meters – because there’s no separate certificate of occupancy for the second unit. So I had to hire a draftsman to draw up plans to convert my single-family home to a duplex, even though it’s been a duplex for the past 40 years. Hard to follow, folks? I know. This has been my life for most of the past year. I’ve spent around $12,000 to sort it out, and I’m still not done.

          • From what you are describing, your two units are attached — so once legal, under the city’s interpretation, the rental would be covered under rent stabilization (unless it was built after 1978, which might very well be the case depending on how they consider the time of the conversion. And actually, I suppose it is covered, legal or not). You seem to be saying that the once third unit no longer is housing, so its a moot issue.

          • You’re correct; when I was cited in 2008 for the third unit, the LAHD inspector had me remove the supply and drain lines from the tub and one sink, which left me with a toilet and one remaining sink. LAHD cited me again for the unit in 2012, and when I told them that they had signed off on it in 2008, they said DBS had to sign off on it.

            In order to keep the toilet and sink, I’d have to convert the structure from a storage room to a rec. room, but that would have required thousands of $$ in plans, permits, and modifications, so I yanked out the toilet and sink, capped off the pipes, and now I’m in compliance. (Now when I’m working on the property I get to urinate in a cup, carry it outside and pour it down the cleanout. Sorry, TMI, I know.) The duplex is an upper-lower, and it’s attached. Once it’s legalized as a duplex it’ll stay under rent control (the house was built in the late 1920’s). My point was that LAHD’s records frequently seem to conflict with LADBS’s records.

        • Henry, you are incorrect. Your view of the RSO restrictions appears to be similar to people who are not aware of the actual rules and simply what you think they should be if logic prevailed. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

          All properties in Los Angeles with two or more residential units with a certificate of occupancy dated prior to November 1978 are subject to the ordinance. Buildings with later build dates are exempted. Single Family houses are also exempted but the city recently included them IF they are bank owned foreclosure properties.

          The RSO rules are tightly aligned with the hope in the late 1970’s to restrict government growth but enacting Proposition 13.

          Over the years, the political leaders and tenant’s rights advocates have tightened restrictions, implemented a highly punitive fee structure (200% late fees for example) and a code inspection program that now entraps owners like James with requirements and upgrade rules that run counter to the rules at the Los Angeles DBS. To combat slumlords in the city, the LAHD implemented a program called REAP that allows the city to literally decrease a tenants rent by 50% and give them the opportunity to pay into an escrow account depriving owners of rental revenue. That has now caught a number of smaller building owners with older properties in areas that have low rents.

          Most of the issues can be resolved with cash and steady maintenance but often times, the LAHD inspectors will require work to be done that benefits no one in the situation.

          It appears that whoever owns the rental property in question has split utilities 3 ways so there is probably another illegal dwelling or illegal subdivision of the house into a rental space. Obviously there is great demand for affordable housing in the city and this is one way to provide it but the powers that be don’t allow it.

          • Adam, you are wrong. You didn’t read what I wrote. It is not MY view or what I think it should say. What I told you is the CITY”S officially issues interpretation, legally enforceable.

            Also, what the city recently did for foreclosed properties is NOT to bring them under rent control; it brought them under the eviction protections. That is very different than rent control.

            And again, when it was enacted in the later 1970s, it was NOT t0 tightly align with restricting government growth! In fact, it was the exact opposite! It brought a whole new government department and a host of regulations on landlords! It was specifically to COUNTER Prop. 13, which give a windfall to landlords yet allowed rents to skyrocket anyway — despite LOUD landlord assertions during the Prop. 13 campaign that it would bring rents down. Rents went up anyway, of course, and there was a revolt.

            There has been little tightened on rent control over the years. In fact, there have been a number of places it has been loosened to benefit landlords, including providing for possible larger rent hikes.

            The code inspection program has no connection to rent control. It is completely separate. And landlords can make tenants pay the full cost of fees for it. And the rules of that inspection program are the same as for ANY code inspection — they are not different, as you are asserting.

            You can’t just make stuff up!

          • Henry,

            The LAHD DIRECTLY contradicted you in one of my situations. They claimed that title or not, if two families can live there, in separate units, then it is a multi-family home not a single family home… thus subject to RSO.

            The best part is that I had to pay relocation assistance for people who were living in an “illegal” unit prior to my even buying the place, all due to the LAHD! I now have a very large tool shed. Total Racket!

      • I have three free standing houses on a single piece of land and it falls under LAHD and LA rent control laws. My dealings with them have been mixed. There are a few people within the department who are honest, hard workers who have helped me slog through the rest of the department which seems to be populated with people with IQ’s of 80 or under. My suggestion is that if you find someone who is kind and intelligent in the department, save their number and ask them to help you in the future.

  7. Someone should submit a request to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to inspect the property for code violations. These conversions can be very dangerous for the inhabitants. This is the link to the online form to request an inspection http://www.permitla.org/csr/index.html or call 311.

    • LOL. Do you think they are forcing people to live there!?! Deal with them directly if you think their construction is unsafe. don’t go tattle like a child, your approach guarantees a worse outcome than the cost of them simply repairing the unsafe items.

  8. Anyone know of a local source for a mini-kitchen unit like that?

  9. My friend lived in that unit and really enjoyed the location, it’s proximity to downtown Echo Park and LA and to all the nightlife. It’s a great space for one person, tightly insulated with air conditioning and heater. Skylight window, separate bathroom and very well lighted. I understand the permit issue James, so while your at it, I hope you also report all those other units in Echo Park neighborhood, some of whom I have visited, then all the art galleries and lofts in the Echo Park downtown business district. Your anger about your experience should be addressed to your Councilmember or the City Departments…..not your neighbor.

    • When my “neighbor” is politically connected, I think it’s my duty to make sure that he experiences the same horrible, financially-draining process that we non-politically-connected folks – and there are plenty of us – have been subject to.

      I would absolutely love it if an investigative reporter took a look at all the LAHD and LADBS employees’ properties to make sure that they aren’t getting any special treatment. I would never, ever think of reporting an average person to the LAHD or any other city agency, but when someone who is politically connected violates the rules, then it’s supreme hypocrisy and they need to be exposed. Let me give you an analogy: I don’t care if someone is taking drugs, and I would never report them to the police (I wish all drugs were legalized) – but if I hear that a police officer is using drugs, then he deserves to be reported. Message to all authority figures: Don’t enforce the law against the public if you’re not going to follow it yourself.

      • Actually, this kind of proves that even the “politically connected” are not privy to backroom deals that giveaway permits.

    • Sandra wrote: “Your anger about your experience should be addressed to your Councilmember or the City Departments…..not your neighbor.”

      His anger is addressed at the whole screwed up system. Our politicians don’t give a rats ass about this situation. The LAHD employees uniformly think that anyone in the city stupid enough to own rental property deserves what they get and tenants rights advocates think that all landlords are slumlords out to get the last penny from their unfortunate tenants.

      if you want to read about the LAHD system, this might be a good place to start:
      http://lahd.lacity.org/lahdinternet/Portals/0/Rent/RSOBulletins/RSO%20Study%20Final%20Report%2008%2004%2009.pdf

  10. Technically a person could move into this ‘apartment’ and then refuse to pay rent until the owner supplies a copy of the LAHD registration paperwork that is impossible to obtain. If they are asked to leave, the owner will have to pay a relocation fee to the tenant.

  11. I want to wish you all a very happy holiday and safe New Year! There are many other issues that are much more important in our communities. James you might want to volunteer at a local non profit and help others. When you get a glimpse of those who have nothing, their daily struggles just to survive, the issues you are addressing here are not as important. See you next year!

    • Go volunteer somewhere yourself, Sandra, and try to refrain from leaving patronizing comments. I’ve worked as a teacher in inner-city elementary and high schools for 15 years (this is my fifteenth year). I also volunteered with the Peace Corps in West Africa. What do you do for a living?

      • Why are you so angry? Would you prefer this guy live in a mcmansion perched high above the “little folk” than right in the center of Echo Park in about a 500 sf house trying to rent out his garage? I would prefer option 2 even if it IS unpermitted.

    • Wow, condescend much? Sounds like someone is working overtime in the PR department to draw attention away from this clear example of members of the bloated government bureaucracy flouting the same bogus rules they make to keep the city’s coffers full.

  12. So many people in the area have “illegal” units in their homes. It is what it is. So many greater issues at hand. But, I know gentrification is hot and heavy in Echo Park now. No one thought about it twice when this was the status quo in the area. I’m not a fan or against Conrado, but I don’t get the hype. Yes, he’s politically involved but no one complains when it’s otherwise. People live in converted and even unconverted garages, that’s been the life in the Echo.

    • I wish that were still the case, but if the city is going to come down on some of us, then they’d better come down on the politically-connected folks too. In 2008 I moved out of the bottom unit of my upper-lower duplex and moved into a converted storage room at the rear of the property; my plan was to rent out the lower unit (where I had previously lived) and save $$ by living in the small storage room, which had a tub, toilet, and two sinks (but no gas). I wanted to take a leave from my job and focus on my writing and do some traveling.

      During the regular SCEP inspections mandated under L.A. rent control, the LAHD inspector asked to see the storage room, and that’s when the trouble began. He fined me $270 and I had to move out, which derailed my plans to take a year off. I had naively thought that the converted storage room wouldn’t concern him, since it doesn’t affect the tenants, but since I was violating the building code, I didn’t have a (legal) leg to stand on. I thought I was done with LAHD problems, but when they came out in 2012 the inspector told me I needed a certificate of occupancy for my laundry room – and that I was still out of compliance on the storage room because I hadn’t removed the tub or the sink. It’s been one thing after another. I’m tempted to sell the place and buy a duplex in Glendale, Burbank, or Pasadena/Altadena, but I grew up in Silver Lake and I still love the area – just not the bureaucracy.

      • I can almost guarantee I know the name of the moron inspector you dealt with. I had LADBS out at the same time as him to approve the permits for the work LAHD forced me to have done, the LADBS inspector said Inspector _ _ _ _ _ from the lahd was completely uninformed about building issues and should not have cited me for such a frivolous issue. He actually apologized to me on behalf of the city and wrote off the inspection fee! (and this is LADBS! one of the notoriously worst departments in LA, ask any builder). Whoever wins for mayor should take this organization apart with a swift chop and create a new method for protecting tenants if they really see the need to.

        • I know a landlord who would greatly benefit from precisely the sort of harassment you describe.

          I’m sorry you fell prey to some bad bureaucracy while trying to do the right thing. But there are landlords who (bully, lie, and intimidate respectful law abiding, rent paying tenants) while trying to ease under the radar of code and legal dwellings for their own benefit while screwing said tenants in more ways than one. Not the least of, financial. And I’m having a hard time sitting on my hands, not requesting an inspection, after reading through these comments.

        • This is exactly why those who are politically connected shouldn’t be able to avoid the process other people have to go through in dealing with the LADBS.
          If they don’t know how poorly that department functions and how impossible they are to deal with the LADBS will never be forced to change.

  13. It is really unfortunate that this blog describes the owner of this unit as a politically connected entitled person. If James was to call Mr. Terrazas today with his issue, trust me, he would help him untangle his issue with the bureaucracy. Mr. Terrazas has lived in Echo Park for over 30 years, this is his neighborhood, and he has done more for his community than Most. He uses his political relationships for the less fortunate and those who don’t know how to maneuver the government bureaucracy. This unit was built out when he purchased his first home. Again, I totally get the permit issue but I also feel that James should call Garcetti office for help.

    • I did contact Garcetti’s office; I sent a letter to Sally Martinez, who is listed on Garcetti’s website as the “Glassell Park Office Manager/Senior Caseworker,” and the day I sent it, I also left her a message informing her of my situation and letting her know that my letter was on its way. I never received a call back, and the letter came back to me, undelivered. (I assumed that maybe the office was closed.) That disappointed me; I took my time writing that letter and I hoped she would be able to help me, or at least point me in the right direction.

      Then I wrote a letter to Robert Ovrom, the General Manager of the Department of Building and Safety, and he referred me to Lincoln Lee with Case Management. We met and discussed the issue, and my draftsperson submitted plans to the city, and they said my plans needed to be resubmitted. It’s been seven months since I first submitted the plans, and I still don’t have the permit to officially convert my property from a single-family home to a duplex. To be fair, I’m not sure if it has been as difficult a process as my draftsman has claimed, or if I just need to hire someone else to finish the process. (According to my draftsman, he has made several visits to DBS regarding this permit. I’m not sure what’s holding it up.) Perhaps in the future I’ll sign up to speak at a City Council meeting. It seems that lots of other property owners have had similar nightmarish experiences – and something needs to be done.

  14. James, Let me know if you are interested in meeting with Conrado and myself. We can figure it our together. Peace!

  15. James, yes, please let Sandra and I know if you’d like to meet to help you on this. Have a Happy New Year!

  16. I am also having issues with LABS and Housing, almost identical to James, don’t want to get in the specifics on a open forum…Sandra I would like to discuss my situation as well, my family has owned in Silverlake for well over 50 years, and this is the worst situation…ugh…help!

    • Valerie – It’s been a few weeks since you made your request, and I was wondering if Sandra or anyone else contacted you to offer their assistance.

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