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A Guide to Owning in a Historic Preservation Overlay Zone

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Angelino Heights via Alberto Cueto

Ever since Angelino Heights was named LA's first Historic Preservation Overlay Zone in 1983, HPOZs have sprung up all over town to protect neighborhoods with a concentration of well-preserved houses from a specific time period. From Van Nuys to Vinegar Hill, Mar Vista to Garvanza, there are now 28 HPOZs, and 11 new areas are under consideration. The good news for homeowners in HPOZs is that, according to LA's Office of Historic Preservation, house prices tend to rise faster in historic zones because these neighborhoods tend to be well-maintained and attract investment. Historic houses in HPOZs can also qualify for property tax reductions under the Mills Act, which can help defray the cost of maintaining a period house. Because HPOZ living isn't all fun and games--there are rules, too.

How strict the rules are depends on whether a house is a "contributing" or "non-contributing" member of the HPOZ. Non-contributors are any houses that were not built during the same period or in the same style as the houses that contribute to the historic character of the neighborhood, or that have been altered beyond recognition. In either case, any homeowner who wants to change the exterior of a house in an HPOZ needs to get the permission of the HPOZ board--a five-person group that must have one architect and one contractor or real estate agent as members. Minor repairs on a contributing house can be approved in about three weeks, along with pretty much anything on the property of a non-contributing house short of demolition or construction of a new building. An alteration to the front of a contributing property, however, requires a formal application, which can take 75 days for the board to review (the decision is appealable). Updates to the interiors of HPOZ houses do not require any special permission.

The Planning Department also publishes a handy guide to maintaining historic properties (pdf), with tips on how to clean stucco or repair the sash cord in an old window, and a friendly reminder not to paint your lovely old house hot pink with purple polka dots. Whether or not you need such practical advice, the guide provides a whirlwind tour through LA's many historic styles, and is worth a look if you're curious to know what distinguishes Victorian doors from Craftsman doors (width and placement), or the benefits of a "Hollywood driveway."
· HPOZ Living (pdf) [Office of Historic Resources]
· Caring for your historic home (pdf) [Office of Historic Resources]