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Apartment Retrofitting Plan Adopted : Housing: Board decides that landlords and tenants will share the cost of reinforcing ‘dingbat’ units from major earthquakes.

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Someone has to pay the bill for needed earthquake retrofitting of Santa Monica’s “dingbats”--those boxy apartment houses that jut out over carports, with not much holding them up.

But the Santa Monica Rent Board has had trouble recently deciding who gets the tab: landlords or tenants?

In May, a divided board passed a regulation effective this month that would have required tenants to pay--through higher rents--for the cost of reinforcing the buildings to withstand another large earthquake.

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More recently, several board members have said publicly that they were going to reverse that decision and make landlords pay the full cost of stabilizing these buildings, which they call “soft-story construction.” About 2,000 buildings in the city need such retrofitting.

But instead, in a surprise 3-2 vote late last week, the board decided that landlords and tenants will split the cost.

The new regulation is expected to go into effect Aug. 1, said Rent Board administrator Mary Ann Yurkonis. It will replace a broader earthquake reconstruction program that lapsed at the end of June.

Yurkonis said landlords filed 600 petitions seeking rent increases with the board during the reconstruction program’s last month, compared with 250 in the previous 12 months.

The Rent Board’s compromise plan followed a plea from Mayor Paul Rosenstein, who said slightly higher rents should be accepted in the interest of safety. The new regulation is expected to increase rents by $5 to $20 a month.

Unless apartment owners can recoup the cost of making their buildings quake-resistant, Rosenstein said, they will delay in complying with the new standards and endanger tenants.

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The Rent Board’s decision was the result of a change of heart by its chairwoman, Lisa Monk Borrino, who had first voted with Commissioners Jay Johnson and Robert Niemann to let landlords pass on the full cost to tenants, as had been the policy since the 1994 Northridge earthquake. But later she said she would vote with Commissioners Suzanne Abrescia and Lacy Goode, who favored making the landlords pay.

During the June 29 meeting, however, Borrino said it was best to split the costs equally.

The cost-sharing plan takes place against the backdrop of an expected vote by the state Legislature to weaken rent control in Santa Monica and several other communities by allowing landlords to raise rents on voluntarily vacated apartment units.

should,” she said in a later interview.

Landlords have accused the board of lashing out at them because the bill appears headed toward approval this summer.

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