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The Cost Of Living In Earthquake Country

Anyone who has lived in California has most likely experienced the natural ever-shifting landscape AKA earthquakes. The effects are devastating and often expensive to landlords and renters alike.

In recent months the topic of who foots the bill for retrofitting of vulnerable apartments buildings has come before the West Hollywood City Council. Much like other municipalities, this is a big question with serious implications for both parties.

On the one hand, the welfare and safety for tenants is always a top priority, but mixed in landlords can remain fiscally viable, and their ability to continue to offer rent at affordable rates while keeping their tenants safe. It’s a big question with far-reaching impact.

For West Hollywood, the answer has been reached. In a surprise vote, the City Council unanimously chose No to pass on the cost to tenants in earthquake-vulnerable apartments.
This decision means that the owners of these buildings will now be required to foot the entire cost of mandatory retrofitting. Landlords can if they prove financial hardship petition for increased rents to offset the expenses however so renters may still feel the sting of retrofitting.

If you’re not familiar with the mandate, it requires retrofitting updates to approx 15,000 buildings, multi-story buildings with weak and open front wall lines creating a “soft-story” (i.e., structures with tuck-under-parking) performed poorly and collapsed.

The goal of the mandatory retrofit program, under Ordinance 183893 and Ordinance 184081, is to reduce structural deficiencies by the most economical and feasible method. Without proper strengthening, these vulnerable buildings may be subjected to structural failure during and after an earthquake. (You can view the Soft-Story Compliance Report here)

It seems that West Hollywood Council members were convinced after hearing testimony from tenants that passing on the cost to renters would be an undue burden. Among the arguments that swayed the council was those who say that there was nothing in place to guarantee that the seismic retrofits would be performed with the money allocated in the surcharge.

Several of the Council members felt that the cost to retrofit a building is an extension of regular maintenance costs and should in no way be passed on the tenants. It was also noted that the city currently has a policy under which owners of rent-stabilized buildings who can prove that maintenance and repairs have reduced their profit margin can apply for permission from the city to increase their tenants’ rents and that additional financial burdens could be addressed through this policy.