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LA Landlords Would Rather Have Illegal Units Than Affordable Ones

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The city wants to give amnesty to illegal units, but it also wants those units to stay affordable

City officials have recently been looking at the idea of legalizing Los Angeles's hundreds of safe-but-unpermitted rental units as a potential way to keep people in affordable housing that they already occupy. Many times, when units are discovered by housing inspections, the landlord isn't given enough time to bring the unit into compliance, and so about 80 percent of the tenants in those units are ultimately evicted. That's especially bad news in light of LA's intense need for housing and wildly unaffordable rental market, and the move to legalize these apartments has united landlords and tenant advocates...until now, says KPCC.

Some landlords are now taking issue with "the addition of a requirement that says legalized units should be rented out to low-to-moderate income Angelenos." They'd prefer to charge high rents for their formerly illegal units, and they're using the threat of continued illegality to fight this provision.

"This does not encourage people to bring housing onto the market. This puts kind of a poison pill in people doing it," he said. So instead of keeping that unit, legalizing it, and collecting some rent while providing badly needed affordable housing, he'd rather just wait until an inspector shuts his unit down and he can collect nothing. The city's already removed 1,800 bootleg units over the last five years, so they're coming, slowly but surely.

A city housing planner tells KPCC that the plan is "is designed for people who've been caught, and they have no good options, and this provides a better option than they have today." (Remember, under the existing system, attempts to legalize these bootleg units usually don't pan out and result in the eviction of 80 percent of tenants.) He adds that the city is willing to be flexible, and could allow landlords to make another unit in their building affordable instead of the presently illegal one.

Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, who introduced a 2014 motion to legalize the unpermitted units, maintains that the current plan—affordability requirement and all—is a "win-win-win situation" that will allow landlords to legalize their presently illegal units in a faster, less expensive way while letting people stay in their homes.

City staff has already recommended that the Planning Commission approve the plan at today's meeting.