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City Approves Path For Landlords To Legalize 'Bootlegged' Apartments

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The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve a path for landlords to legalize "bootlegged" apartment units that were constructed without prior approval from the city.

Councilman Jose Huizar said that the ordinance is meant to help ameliorate the city's woeful housing shortage. “This is a common-sense solution in increasing the city of Los Angeles’ affordable housing stock and protecting many low- and moderate-income Angelenos,” said Huizar, according to the L.A. Times.

What, exactly, is a bootlegged apartment? It can mean different things, but many times it describes an existing apartment that has been partitioned into separate spaces with a new wall. Converted rec rooms are another possibility, as Curbed LA notes.

Actually, there had already existed measures in which landlords could get an existing bootlegged apartment approved. But landlords complained that the process was too difficult and costly to deal with. A 2015 city report said that 2,560 bootlegged units were discovered between 2010 and 2015; of those, 765 were removed and 201 were legalized, reports the L.A. Business Journal.

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“Everyone should have a fundamental right to housing, including those who live in unapproved dwelling units, that’s why we have created a path forward for legalizing those existing dwelling units which meet important life safety requirements and affordability standards,” Vince Bertoni, general manager of the city's Planning Department, said in a statement.

There are certain restrictions to the law. The bootlegged apartments would have to be brought into compliance with city safety codes, for one thing. And landlords would have to agree that, for every bootlegged apartment they rent, there has to be another unit that will remain affordable for the next 55 years. Also, the law will only apply to buildings already zoned for multi-unit occupancy, which also means that "granny flats" (such as converted garages that sit at the back of a home) won't be allowed under the new law (they fall under single-family zoning).

As for even more restrictions, the law will only apply to bootlegged units that were occupied between Dec. 11, 2010 and Dec. 10, 2015; this stipulation is included so that we won't see a sudden influx of bootlegged pads next week.

Some are saying that, because of the number of restrictions (in particular, the requirement of added affordable housing), the law would be unappealing to landlords. "This does not encourage people to bring housing onto the market," Earle Vaughn, a landlord, told KPCC when the ordinance was being considered last year. "This puts kind of a poison pill in people doing it."

Rick Coca, a spokesperson for Councilmember Huizar, told Curbed that, at least, the city is providing an extra option to landlords. “Before, the tenant would just have to move out and nobody wins,” said Coca.

The ordinance still awaits the mayor's signature, upon which it will be effective immediately, Coca told LAist in an email. If you're a landlord looking to participate in this program, it will be run through the Department's Housing Services at the public counters, or at the fourth floor of the Development Service Center at 201. N. Figueroa Street.

Still hung up on that thing about "granny flats"? Coca added that there is actually a separate ordinance making its way through the pipeline that will allow them. Coca said that the city focused on an ordinance pertaining to apartments "because there was already a process of converting unapproved dwelling units, in place."