Having your apartment building retrofitted to withstand an earthquake can seem like a major undertaking.
But surprisingly, it’s not always the cost of construction that has apartment owners concerned. Quite often, it’s the Tenant Habitability Plan required by the City of Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department that worries people most.
The City of Los Angeles in 2005 enacted the Tenant Habitability Program to encourage landlords to mitigate unacceptable living conditions caused by construction and/or renovation work. This program requires landlords and/or apartment owners to ensure that their tenants can remain in place during construction, or be temporarily relocated to alternate housing during the course of construction.
The thought of having to relocate tenants, (paying them as much as $20,000 in relocation assistance per household), can be daunting. But in most circumstances, at least as far as our projects have been concerned, it may not be necessary.
What is a Tenant Habitability Plan?
The Tenant Habitability Plan, or THP, is required before a building plan can be approved by the city. It’s a document that outlines the process of construction and the extent to which construction will disturb the tenants living on the property. If construction is expected to significantly disrupt the day-to-day lifestyle of the tenant or create a compromising structural condition, building owners will need to provide for temporary relocation which includes providing monetary assistance to move somewhere else until construction is finished. Once the work is completed, tenants retain their rights to move back into the building.
The document identifies the primary work to be done and how it will impact the tenants.
Projects requiring relocation generally include work that requires:
- Replacement of water or gas supply lines
- Replacement of existing drain waste lines
- Replacement of electrical wiring or circuits
- Replacement or upgrading of heating, ventilation or air-conditioning units
- Replacement or installation of an elevator system
- Additions, modification or improvements to the foundation or the structure that expose the building frame or compromise the building’s security
Will my seismic retrofit require a THP?
Every residential soft-story retrofit project requires a THP to be reviewed and approved by the city housing department. Not every project, however, will require relocating tenants.
These so-called soft-story buildings, the type with parking or an open area on the ground floor and dwelling or office units above, in most cases can be retrofitted without having to displace tenants.
Given the potential cost of having to relocate tenants while the retrofit is being done, we advise all soft-story apartment owners to ask about the THP process when getting a bid for a project.
Some potential questions to ask include:
• What is the overall time frame of the project?
• What hours do you intend to work?
• What is your plan for accommodating tenants during construction?
• Will my tenants be able to park in their usual spots at night while construction is going on?
Optimum Seismic, AAGLA’s preferred supplier for seismic engineering and retrofits, has developed a process that keeps the parking areas operational before and after regular business hours and during weekends. We make sure that trenches are covered with material strong enough to drive on. All work areas are cleaned daily and tools and other potentially hazardous materials and items are stored safely out of harm’s way.
What is the process for completing a THP?
You’ll want to find a seismic retrofitting company that is familiar with this part of the process.
Typically, the company will fill out much of the paperwork itself, specifying the work to be done and the lengths construction crews will go to in order to avoid disruption for the tenants. In completing the THP, the applicant must indicate whether the temporary relocation of one or more tenant households is necessary.
Housing Department now has over the counter service at Downtown Building & Safety department where the applicants can present THP forms and obtain either approvals or necessary corrections. Upon approval, the landlord or building owner submits a Notice of Primary renovation Work to each affected tenant. Tenants have the right to appeal the matter within 15 days of receiving the notices based on a number of factors, including to dispute that the work needs to be done, or that relocation is either necessary or not necessary. If relocation is necessary, affected tenants need to be relocated prior to the start of construction.
Overall, the city code states that primary renovation work – in this case the seismic retrofit – may not commence any sooner than 20 days after serving notices to tenants.
What if I decide to have the work done without a THP?
A Tenant Habitability Plan must be approved before the city issues any permits for the work to be done. Completing projects without a THP is impossible under the law. We can’t pull permits without THP and doing construction without permit is illegal.
A THP is also required if the owners of rent-stabilized property want to pass on some of the costs of the retrofit to their tenants in the form of rent increases. Property owners can recoup up to 50 percent of the costs with rent increases of up to $38 per unit per month.
Where can I get more information?
Optimum Seismic has teamed up with AAGLA to put on a series of informational seminars throughout this year and into 2017. Many of these workshops have included representatives of the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department, as well as representatives who can speak to liability and finance issues. We provide free estimates and offer $2,000 discounts to AAGLA members. Call us today at (323) 582 2465 for answers specific to your property.