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Thursday October 08, 2015

LA City Council Could Approve Seismic Retrofits This Week

By Josie Huang

A proposal to mandate the seismic retrofit of thousands of apartment buildings against an earthquake goes before the City Council on Friday.Ouroldhouse/Flickr

A proposal to mandate the seismic retrofit of thousands of apartment buildings against an earthquake goes before the City Council on Friday.Ouroldhouse/Flickr

Landlords in Los Angeles could soon be required to reinforce vulnerable apartment buildings against an earthquake under a proposed mandate headed to the City Council on Friday.

The planned ordinance would give landlords seven years to make seismic retrofits. The clock would start ticking from the time they receive the order to make repairs from the city's building department.

The new mandate would apply to more than 13,000 wooden apartment buildings, many with "soft" first stories like carports. Owners of about 1,000 or so earthquake-vulnerable concrete buildings would have 25 years to make upgrades.

The Council's Housing Committee unanimously approved the proposal at its meeting Wednesday. For an ordinance to pass the full Council, at least 12 members have to be present, and the vote must be unanimous. Otherwise, the proposal would have to come back a second time, and win a simple majority vote.

Renters groups say they're concerned the proposed mandate does not address who pays for the repairs.

"We want to see all of this move forward together," Larry Gross of the Coalition for Economic Survival. "It runs the risk of not happening if they're bifurcated, one without the other."

The city's housing department has recommended that landlords and tenants split the cost down the middle, with tenants paying their portion over time in their rent, an amount not to exceed $35 per month. Advocates want to make sure tenants are protected by a cap on rent increases.

City officials say they are hopeful that retrofit costs can be reduced with Gov. Jerry Brown's help. A bill waiting for his signature, AB 428, would give landlords a tax break equal to 30 percent of the cost of seismic retrofits. The governor has until Oct. 11 to approve or veto bills.

If passed, the ordinance would come nearly a year after Mayor Eric Garcetti first announced his plan to require retrofits.

The seven-year time frame was seen as a compromise by the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles. The group originally wanted to give landlords ten years to bolster their buildings. Jim Clarke, the group's executive vice president, said a shorter time frame would have landlords scrambling to get the work done.

"We don't know how many engineers and contractors are available to do this work," Clarke said. "People will be scrambling to get it done and that could open the door for price-gouging."

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