L.A. Welcomes Bootlegs HOUSING: Council signs off on path to turn unapproved units into permitted homes

By on May 15, 2017. Posted in .

Many of the 5,000 bootlegged residential units across the city of Los Angeles created without a permit could soon become legal.

The City Council voted 12-0 last week to approve an ordinance that would permit previously unapproved dwelling units that had been “bootlegged” into multifamily properties. The ordinance provides a path for the legalization of units often created when apartment building owners divide single apartments into multiple dwellings.

The ordinance, part of a city effort to alleviate a shortage of affordable housing, would require that in return for legalizing a bootlegged unit, the owner must provide at least one rent-restricted affordable unit for up to 55 years.

That requirement might deter some landlords from taking advantage of the ordinance because they might incur a net loss by reporting it, said Paul Habibi, a finance and real estate lecturer at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management.
“There’s no free lunch in the business,” he said. “You’re basically gaining one and potentially losing one in terms of rental income.”

Due to the loss of rent money, legalizing a bootlegged unit would appeal most to landlords who have already had units shut down and converted into storage rooms, said Robert Lopata, chief executive of Sherman Oaks’ LB Property Management. Lopata’s firm manages more than 16,000 units in Los Angeles County, some of which have been shut down over the years.

“I can tell you about units that are fully improved, completely habitable; two-bedroom apartments people were living in for decades,” he said. “They get shut down and become storage rooms. To have a pathway to bring these back to the market is a win for the landlord and the fact that it’s affordable serves that greater purpose.”

To be eligible, the residential or mixed-use building with the unapproved dwelling unit must be located in a multifamily zone. The owner must demonstrate that the unit existed as of Dec. 10, 2015, and the building must be free from other code violations.

Between 400 and 500 housing units are removed each year through the city’s Systematic Code Enforcement Program, which periodically inspects all multifamily buildings, according to a city press release. Low- and moderate-income households are often dislocated as a result.

City enforcement agencies identified 2,560 bootlegged units between 2010 and 2015.

Of those, 1,765 were removed and 201 were legalized, according to the 2015 city report. The status of the remaining units was


“This is one solution toward solving the issue of affordable housing,” UCLA’S Habibi said. “It’s just a drop in the bucket. But it’s at least a step in that direction.”

Credit: Los Angeles Business Journal: By Helen Zhao