Starting in October, some local buyers and sellers of real estate hoping to have a smooth-sailing escrow may find their hopes shattered.
The Los Angeles City Council has adopted an ordinance that requires every residential property that changes hands within the city limits to have tempered glass in most of its sliding-glass doors.
If the seller agrees to pay for the changes, the modifications must be completed before escrow closes. Should the buyer agree to do the job, a 30-day period is allowed after the escrow closes to complete the work.
Homeowners who undertake a remodeling job worth $10,000 or more will also have to abide by the new law. So, too, will landlords who make more than $3,000 in repairs or alterations to a single rental unit.
10 Days for Notification
Whoever replaces the glass must notify the city's Building and Safety Department within 10 days after the glass has been replaced. Failure to make the changes and notify the department will be a misdemeanor and could result in a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail, said Art Devine, chief of the department's conservation bureau.
Tempered glass has been required in all new construction since Jan. 1, 1965. As result, the new law primarily will affect people who buy or sell residential property built before that date, as well as people who make expensive changes to their current home.
The number of city residents who will be affected by the new law could be substantial. Chuck Lamb, a Century 21 broker in Northridge who has been trying to have the ordinance modified, said as many as 500,000 homes may have to be retrofitted with the tempered glass over the next five to seven years.
"That number could grow if other cities follow Los Angeles' lead," Lamb said. "The city is so big that it tends to start trends."
Tempered glass is safer but more expensive than untreated glass. That's because tempered glass, when broken, forms little ball-like crystals that don't cut as easily as the jagged shards that result when untreated glass is smashed.
Devine said all tempered glass can be identified by a small "bug" in the corner of each pane.
"If the glass doesn't have the bug, we assume it is not tempered," Devine said. "Without the bug, the only way you could tell whether the glass is tempered is by breaking it."
The new measure, authored by Councilman Marvin Braude, was passed after a Pacific Palisades girl accidentally ran through a glass door in her house. The untempered glass shattered into hundreds of pieces, cutting the girl so severely that neither paramedics nor doctors at a nearby hospital could stop her bleeding. She died about 22 hours later.
A safety-oriented law that stems from such a tragic accident would hardly seem controversial, but local real estate experts are already criticizing the measure as being vague and poorly thought out. Even worse, they claim, an alternative to installing tempered glass would be both safer and less-expensive.
"It's commendable that the city wants to protect its citizens but we think there are better options," said Temmy Walker, a Sherman Oaks broker and president of the San Fernando Valley Board of Realtors.
Shower Door Question
Obviously, the cost of replacing untreated glass will vary, depending on the amount of glass involved. A typical tempered sliding-glass door--with one side that moves and one side that doesn't--costs about $300 to buy and install, broker Lamb said.
"Some homes have two or four sliding glass doors," Lamb added. "Replacing them all with tempered glass could cost more than $1,000."
The bill will be even higher, he said, if shower doors must also be replaced.
"The law doesn't clearly state what needs to be replaced," Lamb complained. "About the only thing that's clearly exempted from the new law are sliding glass doors on closets."
Not All Bear Trademark
Lamb said the ordinance, based on its current wording, could even apply to the popular sliding French doors that are made primarily of wood, but have small panes of glass.
Unlike Devine at the Building and Safety Department, broker Walker claims that not all tempered glass carries the bug. As a result, she said, "some people are going to spend hundreds of dollars replacing glass that's already tempered.
"There's also going to be a problem in some houses, even if they were built after 1965," Walker added. "Someone could have bought a brand new home a few years ago, broke a (tempered glass) door, and replaced it with glass that isn't tempered.
"You still might be affected by this law, even if your home was built after January, 1965," Walker said.
Effective Date Delayed
The new law was initially passed in April, but paper work snafus required the City Council to readopt the measure in late June. Realtors and others involved in the local housing industry were able to get the effective date of the law delayed until Oct. 21, in part to prevent passage of the ordinance from adversely affecting deals that were already in escrow.
Some local brokers are still hoping to have the law modified before it goes into effect. One alternative to replacing the glass is to simply put a sticker in the middle of the door so people wouldn't mistakenly walk through it. Another alternative is to install a metal bar across the glass.
Walker and Lamb said the safest alternative appears to be applying a thick, hard-coated Mylar film over the untempered glass. Ironically, realtors claim, the product is both cheaper and safer than installing tempered glass.
Mylar, made by the Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Co. and marketed under a variety of names, is similar to Krazy Glue and other types of permanent bonding products. It costs about $40 to treat an average patio door with the stuff, a far more attractive proposition than replacing the entire door.
Alternatives Not Accepted
Even better, realtors note, the glass in doors that are treated with the product doesn't fall out of the frame when it is broken. This virtually eliminates the possibility of being cut by broken glass--a trait that even tempered glass doesn't have.
So far, none of the alternatives to replacing the untempered glass has swayed Braude and most of his colleagues on the council.
"Putting on glazing, or any other alternative that's been presented so far, could defeat the whole purpose of the law," said Glenn Barr, a Braude aide. "Just because Mylar, or a metal bar, or a decal is on the door when the house is sold, doesn't mean it will stay on there forever. The new owner might take it off."
Realtors, however, say that it would be extremely difficult to remove all of the Mylar coating once it has been applied.
"The City Council needs to go back and fully look at all the alternatives," Lamb said. "There are better alternatives to replacing untempered glass."
Critics of the new law will likely have a chance to voice their opinions soon. The council's Building and Safety Committee will review the new law Sept. 3 at the request of Councilman Hal Bernson. Meanwhile, many realtors are scrambling to cope with the pending implementation of the new ordiance.
Broker Lamb said he's making sure that all of his agents are informing parties in transactions that will likely be completed on or after Oct. 21 that the corrections--or at least an agreement to make the corrections--will have to be made before the escrow can actually close.
Alert to Buyers
The broker said his firm is also informing buyers of property that will close escrow before Oct. 21 that all nonconforming glass will have to be replaced when they resell their home. "We don't want anybody to be surprised," Lamb said.
Many other local brokers apparently aren't even aware that the new law will soon go into effect. Random calls to six different real estate firms in Los Angeles turned up only one agent who knew of the pending change.
Others are already searching for loopholes in the new law, but without much success. Two realtors, however, noted that homeowners considering a major remodeling job worth more than $10,000 could take out separate permits for the changes.
For example, rather than asking the city for a single permit to make $18,000 worth of changes on a bedroom and den, the homeowner could take out one permit to make $9,000 in changes to the den and another permit to make $9,000 in changes to the bedroom. Since each permit would be less than $10,000, the homeowner apparently could skirt the requirements of the new law--at least until the property was sold.