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L.A. plans crackdown on unsafe warehouses in wake of Oakland tragedy

The city's planning and building department only goes into buildings when the owner seeks a permit or if officials receive a complaint.

In the wake of Oakland's devastating warehouse fire that killed 36 people last week, Los Angeles city officials will meet next week to determine how to address the city's own unpermitted housing issues, the city attorney's office said.

Using a building at 931 E. Pico Blvd. as an example of hazards tenants can face, City Atty. Mike Feuer said in an interview that Los Angeles needs to address its housing shortage and crack down on illegal and unmaintained residences.

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Feuer, the fire chief and superintendent of the city’s building and safety department will meet to discuss an “aggressive response” to commercial spaces that have been converted into apartments or lofts, he said.

"In the wake of the tragedy in Oakland, I think it's especially important that we be vigilant," Feuer said. "What we're trying to do in the filing in the 931 Pico case and convening this meeting is to avoid a tragedy here."

The building on Pico downtown includes, according to a criminal complaint filed by the city attorney's office, unlawfully constructed residences that had no smoke alarms and inaccessible fire escapes.

Map shows approximate location of 931 E. Pico Blvd.
Map shows approximate location of 931 E. Pico Blvd. (Los Angeles Times)

The owner, Morad "Ben" Neman, was charged Monday with several misdemeanors and faces up to $9,000 in fines and 4 1/2 years in jail, Feuer said. He is scheduled to be arraigned in January and was not immediately available for comment. He previously was ensnared in a 2014 Fashion District raid by federal agents investigating suspected money laundering for the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico. That case is pending.

In Oakland, tenants of the Ghost Ship warehouse that burned Friday night said that they were left with no other housing options in a city that has rapidly become unaffordable to many.

It's a symptom that city leaders find in Los Angeles too, Feuer said.

"There's a broader issue: How is the city going to grapple with other commercial properties that house tenants?" Feuer said. "The city must continue to do a better job of increasing our stock of affordable housing."

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UPDATES:

1:55 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about the Pic building's owner.

This article was originally published at 1 p.m.

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