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Relocation Fee Extended to Illegal Rental Units : City Council Approves Ordinance to Require Landlords to Pay Up to $5,000

Times Staff Writer

Property owners who illegally convert garages or other structures into rental units must pay up to $5,000 to tenants who are forced out because of substandard conditions under an ordinance approved Wednesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

Tenants’ rights attorneys praised the law because it will offer for the first time relocation assistance to renters of illegal, substandard dwellings.

Source of Protection

“This is literally going to help thousands of poor people who before today did not have any protection from evictions,” said Mary Lou Villar, an attorney with the East Los Angeles Legal Aid Foundation. “Up until now if you were kicked out of a garage, you were out on the street.”

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City law already requires landlords of legal dwellings to pay for tenant relocation when renters are evicted for necessary improvements or when the unit is declared unsafe by city inspectors from the Building and Safety Department. But a loophole in the law did not require property owners of illegally converted units to do the same.

“The law has to apply equally to every landlord, whether it’s an illegal unit or not,” said Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores, who introduced the measure.

The council passed the ordinance 12-0 and sent it to Mayor Tom Bradley for approval. Bradley has not yet studied the ordinance or taken a position on it, a spokesman said.

Focus on Illegal Units

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It will largely affect homeowners who turn garages into apartments or build illegal rental units onto their homes, said Barbara Zeidman, director of the city’s rent stabilization unit.

These units sometimes come to the attention of city officials after neighbors report substandard conditions, such as poor plumbing, exposed wiring and makeshift gas lines.

Under the ordinance, renters who are disabled, 62 or older or have children will receive $5,000. Single adults will receive $2,000.

A Times investigation in May, 1987, revealed that roughly 42,000 illegal garage dwellings shelter about 200,000 people throughout Los Angles County. The garage homes, a disturbing outgrowth of the region’s affordable housing crisis, lie in a swath of mostly low-income Latino neighborhoods from Sylmar through East Los Angeles into Long Beach, the Times study showed.

The number of illegal dwellings in Los Angeles is not known. But the city’s Building and Safety Department receives about 500 complaints a month, many of which concern garage and other illegal dwellings, said Mel Bliss, chief of the Bureau of Community Safety.


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