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Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood: Granny Flats, Converted Garages, Houses Turned into Tenements

This may be the most desperate and despicable act yet by City Hall in its long war to eradicate the middle class from Los Angeles.

They call it a proposed Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance. That’s a phrase intended to obscure its intent which is to give every owner of a single-family home property the “right by law” to turn their house into apartments, to convert garages into living units and to even put second houses, granny flats, on their property the size of the average bungalow.

It ought to be called the Tenement Law.

Every property owner is an overstatement. It’s every property owner except those on hillsides, horse-keeping areas, scenic highways or live on narrow lanes.

In other words, the rich are exempt from seeing the quality of life in their neighborhoods ruined by families living in a 1,200 square foot house in your neighbor’s back yard, of having hordes of renters living next door, of cars parks all over the place — exempt from the policies of densification that are turning LA into Manhattan, subway to come.

And if that weren’t bad enough, no less than Council President Eric Garcetti with support from Bill Rosendahl, Paul Koretz, Tom LaBonge and Richard Alarcon introduced a motion Oct. 20  to take the Tenement Law a step further.

They want to legalize thousands of illegal “ADUs” showing as much contempt for the law and the public interest as the owners of those properties showed when they turned garages into death traps, houses into tenements and ignored every Building and Safety code in the books.

They want the Council to order the Planning Department. which is now “conducting a study which will lead to a recommendation for permanent Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) regulations,” to “study and report back in regard to the legalization of previously unpermitted
converted units ”

Their logic goes like this:

“The current housing crisis is exacerbated by the turmoil in the mortgage lending industry where foreclosures have increased and many other homeowners are on the brink. This situation impacts all segments of the housing market, but is particularly dire for those with low incomes, those with special needs and the homeless.

“The number of low income households and the pervasiveness of poverty in Los Angeles are markedly higher than in other urban areas. These factors further speak to the need for more affordable housing in Los Angeles, but creating this housing will require greater subsidies than in other areas as well.”

Never have I seen the naked truth so clear in a city document.

We have more people than other cities because we have followed policies that encourage poverty by chasing away good-paying jobs, destroyed our schools, tolerated sweatshops, allowed slum conditions to flourish.

And now we have a moral and soon-to-be-legal obligation to provide every poor person a place to call home with subsidized rents, wages, utilities and other public services — subsidies paid for by the shrinking numbers of middle class residents who still think there’s a chance in hell of changing the direction of City Hall or are too set in their ways to admit the game is up.

Imagine what this city will be like when every inch of it is paved over and twice as many people are living on your street.

That’s the vision and time is running short.

City Hall, exposed now for its failure in everything from financial management to the proliferations of digital billboards and marijuana dealing, will do anything to protects its perks, privileges and paychecks.

That’s where the Planning Department they have totally politicized comes in.

The planners have been assigned the task of escalating the war against homeowners — 2,000 percent increases in fees, failure to measure cumulative impacts of development, out-of-date or meaningless planning documents, approval of every project where the influence peddlers have spread around enough money.

And now granny flats and tenements — a campaign they are running in hopes nobody would notice with a backup plane to lie, mislead and obfuscate whenever necessary.

Citizen journalist Karen Kanter reported at about Saturday’s meeting the Neighborhood Council’s Plan Check Group with City Attorney Carmen Trutanich on the ADU proposal.

Contrary the claims of city officials that this ordinance is “mandated” by a six-year-old state law, AB 1866, Trutanich said there is nothing that require the city “to adopt or amend an
ordinance for the creation of these units. As for the criteria that
was adopted by state law, there was no mention of minimum lot size or
parking requirements or anything related to restrictions on residential

fact, room was left for cities to narrow the state requirements.
Pasadena, for example, adopted an ordinance that required that these
units could only appear on lots with a size of 15,000 square feet or

City planners in LA want have issued interim guidelines that would reduce the minimum lot size to half or a third of Pasadena’s and to all but eliminate parking restrictions.

I just spent 18 months and wrote 16 articles tracking an illegal conversion of a house in my Valley floor tract into three apartments I saw the impact this one ADU had on my neighbors and neighbhorhood and can imagine if there were a lot more.

We would have no choice except to sell our house or cash in on two or three tenants each paying more in rent then our mortgage.

So maybe, if you all out there aren’t going to get mad enough to stop this madness, I need to change my mind and consider this a city pension for an old newspaperman living on Social Security.

By God, I could live on a beach in Mexico like a king with the proceeds of my tenement in the Valley.


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37 Responses to Coming Soon to Your Neighborhood: Granny Flats, Converted Garages, Houses Turned into Tenements

  1. Anonymous says:

    Billboards and dispensaries at every corner; granny flats in every neighborhood;gang bangers in half the city and the most idiotic Mayor and Councilmembers together in City Hall. The moneyed people in the city living in their small oasis probably think it is not their problem until it will be too late. A few activists fighting the continuous onslaught from City Hall can’t do it alone. Will the people in this city wake up and collectively do something.

  2. Walter Moore says:

    Welcome to “elegant density” and “smart growth,” known everywhere else as “Third World over-crowding.”
    If only someone had run for Mayor who opposed increased density. . . .

  3. Huh? says:

    I’m confused. When you say rich folks, horse properties and hillside properties are exempt, does that mean they are not allowed to do this or they can stop such a conversion in their neighborhood by merely objecting?
    Also, would there be a required community impact study prior to permitting such conversions?
    Would these converted garages be considered separate addresses?
    Would someone please explain?

  4. Chris Rowe says:

    Dear Ron,
    Were you ever young? Were you ever poor? I was.
    When I was 24 years old, I was working full time at a local hospital, making minimum wage, and taking classes two nights a week at Pierce. I could not afford an apartment at that time in my life. I moved to a garage conversion. I did not know that it was illegal. I suspect that it was.
    It had a small kitchen, a living area, a separate bath with a shower, and a bedroom. It was in a converted garage in Reseda. And I lived in a similar place in Fort Worth.
    Those of us who are working our way through schools – not all of us or our parents can carry debt for us to go through college.
    I was thrilled when Pierce College put student dorms on its 2002 Master Plan. I can’t ask for anything better for our children who do want to go through college. When I sent my kids through – both at the State and in Out of State Schools, the cost was about $20,000 a year. Those costs have gone up.
    So don’t you think that conversions should be zoned – and weighed individually – just like the hearing at City Planning that I went to today?
    They want to convert a single family residence behind me into a 45 children Montessori School and Day Care Center. Where was the out cry on that one?
    Life is hard and getting harder for us all.

  5. anonymous says:

    Would building permits be issued without an inspection? Since garage building codes differ from homes, what will the City require to make these dwellings safe? Would existing illegal ADU’s be automatically permitted, or will they have to be inspected?
    If these places are permitted without being safe, who is liable: the homeowner, the City or both?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Have you noticed that after the City Council promised that the City Planning Department would conduct outreach regarding recommended changes to land use appeal fees that there has not been a peep? What is the City Planning Department up to? They promised have a real public discussion and they have done nothing.

  7. lil dickens says:

    The City wants more money–any way it can get it. Since people are illegally converting their garages anyway, the City probably figures why not tax them (higher sewer fees, water bills, trash fees, etc.)? Higher density = higher tax revenues, no?
    As far as safety, that will be left to another day, after a few families burn up. Then there will be feigned shock, concern and hand-wringing at City Hall, and tougher ADU building codes may be added (but never enforced).
    As others have said, we’re fast becoming a third-world city, but the rich live in their own world, and the up-and-coming are too busy to care about the negative changes that don’t affect them anyway. The City’s planning and regulatory agencies are just there to rubber-stamp their bosses’ policies. What do they care about the living conditions in L.A.? Most of them probably don’t live in L.A.
    I’m a native-born, middle-class Angeleno, who long-ago fled to the outskirts. I see no hope for L.A. Stopping the negative changes–you may as well try to stop the sun from coming up. We’re not the same L.A. we were 30-40 years ago. Indeed, we’re not even the same U.S.A.
    But thanks Mr. Ron, and those who still do care. Maybe you can slow down L.A.’s slide into hell. At least you’re not going down without a fight. You fight for a better L.A. for ALL the people, even those who sneer at you. Forgive them–they don’t understand what you understand.

  8. steve h says:

    Where was Garcetti, LaBonge and the rest of the city hall rat pack when all that was being built in LA were “lofts” starting in the low 400′s or low 500′s or 600′s. Were they blind? Did they engage in collective magical thinking that flying saucers were going to land in LA, dropping off scores of well-to-do in town that could afford those prices, when in reality what was arriving was the poor and working poor?
    I have a suggestion – convert those empty “lofts” all over town and downtown into what they really are, “apartments”, and rent them out at prices the poor and working poor can afford. At prices that reflect the real population of Lost Angeles instead of the imaginary one exisiting in politicians’ and developers’ heads.

  9. Walter Moore says:

    Yeah, Ron, weren’t you ever young?
    Young people should not have to obey the law.
    Neither should poor people.
    In fact, whenever it’s more convenient to break the law than to abide by it, a person should be allowed to break the law.
    So what if it deprives everyone else of the quality of life they worked years and years to achieve? So what if you and your wive scrimped and saved so you could move out of a beehive apartment into a nice house with a yard?
    It’s not about what old people with money want. Everything should be for the good and the convenience of the young and the poor.
    Lordy. Youth is wasted on the young, but brains apparently are not.

  10. Walter Moore says:

    “Wife” not “wive” — my copy editor is so fired!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I can’t speak for an old, grizzley warhorse like Ron, but I vividly remember being young and poor and going to college and I didn’t live in illegal housing. This idea that most people who go to college were born with a silver spoon and that they are awash in cash is just absurd.
    I, too, paid for my own education. Unlike you, I couldn’t afford to live alone when I was in college; I had roommates.
    What that experience taught me was that I didn’t like being poor and having to make those kind of living compromises. That motivated me to study when others were playing. And when I ran into those hard things in life that aren’t “fair”–bad bosses, abusive clients,etc.., etc.–I figured out how to make my way through without compromising myself or going back to being poor or demanding other people cater to me.
    I think it is called being a grownup. And part of being adult is realizing that life is not getting harder and harder; it is simply different and unique. There were no golden olden days; every generation has its challenges and, today, the golden ring is far more open and far more available to far more many people. In short, I have worked and earned my quality of life; I am more than glad to extend a helping hand, but am not willing to be blood donor.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I’m sick and tired of people making excuses saying things like “they’re just trying to make a living” referring to illegal vendors, or “they are poor” referring to people building unsafe housing without permits. This group of city council members show they have no class and want Los Angeles to look like Tijuana and we’re headed that way. Ever driven in downtown LA or Rampart areas, they look like Ensenada. These city council members aren’t educated and behave like a bunch of unfit juveniles. If they would have been raised with class, morals and education then they would realize the law is the law and there’s no excuse not even ignornance of that law. These city council members could live in a cave and think its ok because they have no professional decorum or social etiquette manners. So living in filth, blight, crime and with people breaking the law makes them feel comfortable. Because of them Los Angeles has ruined its reputation as a world class city. Look at Burbank, Glendale, Culver City, Pasadena not one of them looks as horrible as Los Angeles

  13. Anonymous says:

    These city council members are ruining our city and nobody is saying jack to them. Where is the voice of the neigborhood councils who are suppose to represent the city? Get up off your asses and start making NOISE on the bullshit council member morons are doing. The marijuana shops thanks to Garcetti, Reyes and Huizar and now they are blatantly ignorning the advice of the city attorney. The digital billboards thanks Perry and now all the morons on council are all over the city, traffic they ignore dealing with, and now illegal vendors. If they want to get money they should increase the fine for illegal vending from $80 to $100. These morons were raised in caves. They have no class, no morals, no education and are making our city into Tijuana. They feel comfortable around blight and listen to dumb ass people because it makes them feel important.

  14. Anonymous says:

    In Rio de Janerio, the wealthy people live in the flat areas, especially near the water. The favellas of the lawless drug dealers and starving masses are located on the hills and mountains surrounding Rio.
    This ordinance of Eric Garcetti will make Los Angeles nearly the opposite to Rio. Yes, wealthy will live near the water but also in the hillside and equestrian areas. In the flatlands of Los Angeles, all sorts of garage conversions and granny flats will be approved WITHOUT requiring additional parking on-site. The streets and these properties will indeed look more and more like a third world country instead of the “elegant density” touted by the clueless Garcetti and his minion on the Planning Commission, Mike Woo.
    We have to get rid of these people…..

  15. Pissed off horse owner. says:

    I’m no where near wealthy! and this little law will create huge pressure to strip areas of their horse keeping status so people can cash in by becoming slum lords!
    Gee Richard Alarcon – what are your poor horse constituents in CD 7 gonna think of you supporting them losing the last few places they can keep their animals? You might want to think about that before you run for Mayor, senor idiot!

  16. Hank says:

    I am confused – jobs are leaving LA, school student population is declining (so we shouldn’t be building new schools), so that means that the overall population of LA is decling – right? So who is going to live in these ADU’s? It must those folks who keep getting missed in the Census – you know those who, if counted, would generate more federal money for the city!!!
    Just follow the money – it’s always about money.
    But wait, if there are more ADU’s, then the City will need to hire more Building Inspectors, but there’s an ERIP in progress (over 100 employees in Bldg & Safety has submitted ERIP applications as of 11/13, that’s 12% of the department!), so who will inspect these new housing units? Or will they even get inspected – we already have more slumlords with roach hotels than the City Attorney can file against – now Trutanich will have to just cruise down every street in LA (except the hillsides, etc., etc.)…..
    New Zealand looks better every day. So why am I bothering to re-finance – I should just dump my house and bail out of here….
    Throw ALL of the bums out, please!!!!!

  17. Anonymous says:

    Chris Rowe,
    Did you know that it is legal for you to sleep on the sidewalk, anywhere in Los Angeles. Try it. It’ll solve much of your difficulties.
    Ron Kaye, where were you? Didn’t you know that “granny flats” were legal for quite a while. Didn’t you know that Los Angeles was planned rezoning to accommodate a larger influx illegal Mexicans. Oh my, you’re too politically connected and corrected to mention it. Why should we be outraged? We knew that this corruption of Los Angeles was happening for years. All the while, our leaders and duplicitous Neighborhood Councilmembers hide behind falsehoods to deceive us into believing this was never their intent.

  18. Anonymous says:

    The rich are always clamoring for more police and that is the reason the Mayor is running around with the new chief. No amount of police will keep you safe from the LA envisioned by the Mayor, Council and their minions. You will need security guards to escort you the moment you get out of your mansions. Keep dreaming, enjoy. It will eventually come to an end. And while you enjoy your soirees, keep thinking that land use issues and what goes on in this city are not your concern.

  19. anonymous says:

    lil dickens on November 17, 2009 7:14 AM wrote:
    “The City wants more money–any way it can get it. Since people are illegally converting their garages anyway, the City probably figures why not tax them (higher sewer fees, water bills, trash fees, etc.)? Higher density = higher tax revenues, no?”
    I agree with you. That is probably why they are pushing for this. Why not make these folks legal for additional city revenue?
    I’d be curious if these converted properties would be considered multi-family residential properties. If so, they get a nice discount on their water rates.
    So, if I’m right, the person on a large lot with fewer people is charged a very high rate and is quickly launched into tier two. Yet, the person with a renter in their garage, gets to use alot more water without the high penalties.
    I suppose that’s a small price to pay for the larger lot folks that don’t have to deal with tenant rights’ nightmares-assuming they can still live on their large lots with the taxes and rates they are presently paying.

  20. joseph says:

    I think the heart of this law is to make our de facto, already widespread garage living become de juris. As with medical marijuana, it has largely already happened anyway, and we won’t be creating anything new but another checklist and stop at plancheck.
    The selling point is embarrassing. The city will not let the market create market-based affordable housing, which it could if it wanted to, because the developers who own the pols want bigger profits than two-bedroom houses avail. So instead the city tries to take the developers out of the equation entirely, rather than pushing them back a little bit, and shuffles the code in the name of affordable housing.
    The problem, once again, is that the city’s residences are now 60% renters and 38% owner-occupied, so the owners are the ones on the short end. A better balance is 50-50, which we find in most healthy cities. Garcetti’s district is almost 90% renters; it’s an unhealthy ratio, and why we have so few voters who show up on election day: not enough stakeholders who care.

  21. Chris Rowe says:

    To Walter Moore, By Anonymous on November 17, 2009 8:46 AM,By Anonymous on November 17, 2009 4:39 PM
    Dear Walter, Not everyone has a law degree. When someone says that they have a “room for rent” in Craig’s list, or a “pool house” or a “maid’s quarters’, or a guest house – do we ask if any of these places are legal? What do we know about legal when we are young.
    Some people have the good fortune of living with parents or having the advise of parents while they went to school. I did not have that luxury.
    I lived in dorms and shared a room when I was in a four year school. I took out student loans to go to a private college. My mother would not let me go to the college that I wanted to – where I had a scholarship – at 17, because I would be living alone in Chicago and she did not think it was safe. And she grew up in Chicago, so she knew the City well.
    I dropped out of a 4 year college because I was strapped with college loans by the time I was 19.
    I slept at family member’s in spare bedrooms, on friend’s sofas, and in my own regular apartment at times. But at this one place in my life – this conversion was all I could afford.
    It had nothing to do with legal to me at the time. How many people know which conversions are and are not illegal? Because the West Hills Neighborhood Council voted to approve one recently. These issues are run through the NC’s – how are we to know when a conversion is legal?
    How does someone ask that question? Do you say – is this legal? Don’t we automatically assume buildings are legal in Los Angeles?
    I’m sorry – but unless you are an attorney, covering the news as Ron does, involved with Building and Safety issues, and City Planning issues, you just “trust your government”.
    There are many things that are done in this City and in this Country that are legal but are really not right or fair.
    We can start with “Measure B” – legal – yes.
    Fair – no.

  22. Spiffy says:

    I’m sorry, but you are wrong in your assessment of the granny flat proposal. Many SFRs that cost little are on narrow roads so you can’t say this is a law just for the rich.
    Frankly, with the numbers of middle class homeless people increasing in the city, I’m all for granny flats as a temporary allowance to get through hard times. The ordinance should have mandatory review of need built into it every two years.

  23. Anonymous says:

    Spiffy are you suggesting that every two years the city will inspect thousands of these units and have them torn down if not needed. Based on what? Financial statements? Talk about a lame idea.

  24. Anonymous says:

    Ah, Spiffy, how do you create “temporary” granny flats? Trailers? Kinda like a temporary tax increase?

  25. Anonymous says:

    Ed Reyes knows better so he must be caving into financial interests of the pot dealers. Nice. Thanks for singlehandedly screwing up our neighborhoods, Ed.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Spiffy, there are also many developers going under these days. They should also be allowed to build to the highest density, height, and minimum parking. Don’t complain when it is next to your house.

  27. LA Moderator says:

    We dealt with the concept of granny flats years ago in my former home town in the suburbs. We were careful that it applied to grannies.
    The problem is, just like assenting to a C.U.P for a family restaurant to serve liquor, the entitlement goes with the property, even after it’s sold.
    There are better mechanisms for mixed used redevelopment, and I’m not talking about subsidizing CIM for SNAP enhanced “smart growth”…
    The consolation of spending last Saturday geting humbled at the Coliseum was seeing the new vibrancy across from the USC campus. I’d love to hear what Maggie knows of the building boom in the area, but the place is looking up. Seems like BID’s are banding together to make downtown and other areas more walkable:

  28. Spiffy says:

    I am suggesting that the need for homes in backyards be reviewed every year or two. And make families apply. Limit the number of people who can live in such a place to 1, or a married couple over age 65.
    Are we going to have inspectors go inspect? I don’t think the city can afford to hire anyone to do that. So make an ordinance that supplies heavy fines for those who violate the occupancy limits. And if you suspect your neighbor has a family of 5 in his garage, you can call 211 or 311 and report the address and then the inspector goes out.
    It’s easy to prove someone is a relative with birth records. To what level of relatedness do we go? How about 1st cousin? 1st cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, grandparent, adult child, adult grandchild.
    Taking care of people in a humane way can work BUT we do have to lay down RULES. Where this city goes so terrible wrong in being humane is that the city council seems to be rule averse! Look at the medicinal pot issue: A humane idea that the city council doesn’t know how to regulate.
    I know, I know—people don’t like rules. Try driving in this town when everyone ignores them.

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  32. dirgni says:

    Great post. I am living in this situation now with my neighbors who bought 5 years ago. I am just sick about it. I have more than 17 people living in a triplex next door. When they moved in they said they are homeowners now and can do whatever they want and they have.They got one of those interest only loans and pay almost nothing. They have three double car garages that they live in and park all their cars on the street. They fenced in the driveway and use it as a yard. They clean out their cars and their dogs pee on my grass.They play amplified music from 5pm til 5am. They took down a shared fence to put up what they liked without my permission.They laughed when I protested and told me that I owe them half. They think they are the only ones who are homeowners.Since I am out numbered, they have all the rights and I have none. They have broken my sprinklers and have put trash and dog poo on my property. So they can break the law and I don’t, but I have no rights, it is just all about them. It doesn’t matter if they are allowed to convert their garages, they do it anyway and really how can the city prevent them from sleeping in their garages? But hope they don’t make it legal because it would make it worse.

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  36. Granny Flats says:

    The first thing you should consider is the size of the building you are planning to construct. Naturally, if it is a smaller house, it will take less time, and more importantly, less power to build. The second thing to consider is the style of the property.

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