Landlords, Tenants to Share Los Angeles Quake Retrofit Costs

January 19, 2016

Los Angeles landlords and tenants must equally share the costs of earthquake retrofitting, under a deal approved by the City Council.

The agreement that passed unanimously Wednesday allows building owners to pass half the retrofit costs to tenants through rent increases over a 10-year period, with a maximum increase of $38 per month, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The vote came after more than a year of studies and fierce debate – and now allows the city to begin implementing the most sweeping mandatory seismic laws in the nation.

“It took a lot of work to get this done. Those meetings initially were not pleasant,” said Councilman Gil Cedillo, head of the committee that mediated the plan. “We’re very happy to get both groups together.”

In October the city implemented rules affecting thousands of older wood and concrete apartment buildings vulnerable to collapse in a major quake. The mandate affected as many as 13,500 so-called soft-first-story buildings, which are typically wood-frame structures with large spaces such as parking lots on the ground floor. As many as 1,500 brittle concrete buildings also require upgrades.

Estimates for upgrades for soft-first-story structures range from $60,000 to $130,000 per apartment building. Taller concrete buildings can cost millions of dollars to strengthen.

With the cost-sharing debate resolved, the issue becomes how the retrofit laws will be implemented in the coming months, the Times said. Tenant and owner groups worry that a sudden demand for thousands of mandatory retrofits will create price surges for qualified structural engineers and construction contractors.

Housing and building officials must also consider whether they have adequate staffing to process all the retrofit permits and the rent increases.

The process needs to be streamlined and not complicated, said Beverly Kenworthy, executive director of the Los Angeles division of the California Apartment Association.

Studies estimate that a massive earthquake in the Los Angeles area could kill up to 18,000 people and cause some $250 billion in damage. Sixteen people were killed in the collapse of a soft-first-story building during the Jan. 17, 1994, Northridge earthquake.

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