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Get Ready To Pay Half The Bill For Your Landlord's Earthquake Retrofitting

A pancaked apartment building with a soft-first story after the Northridge Earthquake. (Eric Gelinas via Flickr Creative Commons)
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The L.A. City Council voted to allow landlords pass on exactly one half of the costs associated with seismically retrofitting a potentially unsafe building to their tenants.

The decision came on Wednesday after a year of savage debates before the city between tenants unions and landlords. Tenants argue building owners should be responsible for their own property's upkeep, including seismic retrofits. Landlords argue tenants should be liable because retrofitting is, well, expensive!

Tenants can see this reflected as a $38 per month increase in their own rent for 10 years. While the increase is optional, it's probably a safe to bet that if you live in one of the purportedly unsafe buildings your landlord will increase rent.

Last October, the City Council voted unanimously to overhaul Los Angeles' retrofitting requirements, giving the city some of the most strict regulations in the entire country. The new rules call for an estimated 15,000 at-risk buildings across L.A. to be evaluated to determine whether or not they need retrofitting to better withstand an earthquake's shaking.

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So-called dingbat apartments with open, or 'soft' first stories (such as carports), and older concrete buildings are those most vulnerable to damage in a major earthquake. Between the 1971 Sylmar earthquake and the 1994 Northridge earthquake, 65 people died when buildings of these types collapsed.

Incidentally, $38 per month is actually just more than half the value that ($75 per month) landlords are allowed technically allowed to increase rent for retrofitting under current L.A. City housing law. But the new requirements passed last October pushed the issue towards immediacy. Tenants groups argued a $75 increase would be simply too much for a lot of renters.

Owners of the soft-story wood frame buildings will have up to seven years to strengthen their property; those who own concrete buildings have 25.

Much of the justification on the landlords' side comes from independent 'mom-and-pop' type landlords, who may have invested in a building as a source of retirement income. While, yes, the cost of seismic analysis, retrofitting, and interest on any loans taken out to cover that retrofitting are costs that could challenge some of sanctity of a lush retirement, increasing rent $38 dollars per month is $38 dollars removed each month from the hypothetical retirement accounts of some of L.A.'s most cash-strapped demographics.

From the tenants' side, this begins to look like a bailout for people who made bad investments, and should have been more risk averse when they purchased a building that could fall down in an earthquake.

It's not like we haven't known about the dangers of soft first stories and brittle concrete for decades.

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