Seismic retrofits affect more than just the buildings they are designed to protect. Depending on the construction process, they have the potential to disrupt quality of life for your tenants.

That’s why 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 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.

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.

Every residential soft-story retrofit project requires a THP to be reviewed and approved by the city housing department. THPs require relocation when additions, modification or improvements to the foundation or the structure expose the building frame or compromise the building’s security.

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?

In all instances, it’s important to find a contractor that can minimize the impact on tenants, maintain a safe and tidy construction area, and keep parking areas operational before and after regular business hours. Insist that trenches are covered with material strong enough to drive on. All work areas should be 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 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.

A Tenant Habitability Plan must be approved before the city issues any permits for construction work to begin. 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 currently recoup up to 50 percent of the costs of their retrofit with rent increases of up to $38 per unit per month.

Once the THP is approved, 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. 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 the filing of the declaration of serving notices to tenants.