7 Tips to Cure Illegally Converted Structures

If you've been cited for an illegal garage conversion, illegal guest house conversation, or other illegal building construction, you need these 7 tips: 


Tip No. 1: Know WHO You Are Dealing With

If you are reading this website, getting a code citation for your property is a new experience. The type of property you have determines who you deal with. For instance, in Los Angeles, it works this way:

City of LA

Residential Income (Apartment buildings) – Los Angeles Housing & Community Investment Department (in conjunction with the LA Department of Building & Safety)

Single Family Residence – Most of the time this is for houses, but condominiums are covered here, too – Los Angeles Department of Building & Safety

County of LA

(Los Angeles County) Department of Public Works or Regional Planning, Zoning Enforcement Section.

In other Southern California cities and counties, it's usually a combination of one or more of the agencies used by Los Angeles. So tip #1 is to know who you are dealing with.

Tip No. 2: Know WHY You Are Dealing With a Code Citation

The truth is – it's usually not your fault. Back in 1998, the City of Los Angeles decided to start a Code Enforcement Bureau within its Department of Building & Safety. Theoretically, it was to insure the safety of residential units in the city and to combat the conditions provided by slum-lords. In theory, that's still true today. Except . . . savvy property owners know the primary reason is to raise REVENUE for the city; every city. Inspections have become citation-writing exercises. (Unless you've been cited) you wouldn't believe how “ticky-tack” some of the citations are. As the number of inspectors increased, the levels of bureaucracy increased as well. So that's the real reason you're being cited; to pay for the bureaucracy and to increase city coffers – and to keep residential properties safe. Theoretically.

Tip No. 3: What a Notice / Order to Comply means for home-owners.

Not only are apartment buildings a prime target, but so are all single family residences especially in the city of Los Angeles through the Department of Building & Safety. This means all changes made to the footprint of the property structure done without permits will need to be permitted, converted back, or demolished. All three options can cost more than you ever imagined.

On a single family house, the most common problems are:

  • Guesthouse Addition
  • Converting a Garage to Living or Recreational Space
  • Second Story Addition
  • Attic or Basement Conversion
  • Enclosing a Patio or Porch
  • Room Addition

Perhaps, like many homeowners, you added a room, or simply enclosed a portion of your home – without a permit. If your local Department of Building & Safety comes calling – either because they were tipped off to a problem, or perhaps because they simply observed one minor problem on your property that led to a closer inspection and then BAM! Then they've got you for illegal construction, and it will create a world of hurt for you.

It's crucial in any of these situations to know how to proceed without getting your rights trampled in the process.

Tip No. 4: What a Notice / Order to Comply means for apartment owners.

It is rather common in the city of Los Angeles, to own a building with one or more units built without permits. Sometimes the owner knows about it, sometimes not. [If you purchased residential income property without knowing it had a code citation, see my Real Estate Litigation page.]

When you get an Order to Comply or a Notice and Order of Abatement, it means a government department is ordering you to correct your violations. In Los Angeles, that would be the Housing Department. If not corrected in a time sensitive manner, additional fees will start compounding.

While there are certain similarities required to legalize an addition to a house versus and apartment building, the biggest difference is the application of the parking requirements. Whereas parking for a single family residence may be as (relatively) simple as adding an inexpensive carport, it's another story re-configuring parking for an apartment building. As each property is unique, there are many other property issues that will arise, but all areas need to be researched in order to identify if your unpermitted unit can be legalized. If you have been cited, there is a short window of time to take action.

On a multi-unit building, the most common problems are: • Adding a Unit or Units • Converting a Recreational Room to Additional Square Footage to an Existing Unit • Converting Storage Space to Common Area

More important, if you don't act quickly, you could find yourself in a heap of REAP.

It's crucial in any of these situations to know how to proceed without getting your rights trampled in the process.

Tip No. 5: Why You Want to Stay Out of REAP if You're an Apartment Owner

This subject deserves a page of its own, so please go to my REAP page for more details.

Here are the basics. A property is placed in REAP (Rent Escrow Account Program) when the violations on an Order To Comply notice from the Los Angeles Housing Department are not being corrected fast enough to satisfy the violations.

If Your Property is Placed in REAP you can expect a Loss of Monthly Income, Tenants paying their rent to LAHD instead of to you, Rental income reduced up 50%, and that's just for starters.

The longer your property stays in REAP, (and coincidentally, the city has designed the program so that your STAY in REAP far beyond the time you should), the larger the financial drain. It is about ten times more difficult to get out of REAP as opposed to a typical Order to Comply. The Case Manager now not only looks for the cited violations, but ALL deficiencies on the property. No one's property typically passes on the first or second rounds. Additional sign offs will most likely be required from Building & Safety, Department of Health Services, Community Outreach and/or The Fire Department.

You have to comply, and the sooner the better – but you'll be surprised at what you may do, versus what you must do – and WHEN you have to do it!

Tip No. 6: What the Inspectors will say to you 99% of the time.

It's a funny thing, but 99% of the time the Inspectors say the same two things, no matter which city, county, or department they're in, and that is:

Tear it down and return the structure to its original condition.

Only you know what? When they come calling, 99% of the time they are not in a position to know if that's true or not. Because it takes research and analysis, and frankly, they don't have time for either unless you're accused of being a slum-lord with a large enough building that it makes economic sense for the Inspector to check things out first.

Inspectors are good people, but as a property owner, “don't believe everything you hear,” because you don't want to trust your legalization to a government agency, your rights will get trampled and your rental income will be reduced – perhaps unnecessarily so.

Tip No. 7: What You Should Do if You are Cited for an Illegal Unit, Garage Conversion, Guest House, or Construction done Without a Permit.

Here are two ways to schedule your
Free, 25-Minute Code Clarifying Call

1. Call me, Andy Baker, now at 818-620-6023

I answer my own phone. If you get the voicemail. just leave your name and number and the city your property is located along with a brief message of what you're calling about, a good time to call you back and I will call you back.

2. You can also reach me by email at: [email protected]

In your email please tell me your name, a little bit about your situation and I will write back to you.

Call me, Andy Baker, for a free,
25 minute Code Clarifying Call

Where we meet on the phone, look at your Notice to Comply, Substandard Order or A Notice and Order of Abatement and clarify:

  1. What your notice means
  2. What they claim is illegal about your home, guest house, garage or rental unit(s)
  3. What they want you to do about it
  4. How much time you have to cooperate
  5. What will happen if you don't
  6. And the best options for you to comply and legalize

I'll answer all your questions and when we're done, if you want, I can show you a couple of ways I can help.

By the end of the call, you'll:

  1. Know what the truth is
  2. Feel RELAXED about your situation
  3. And have a much better idea of the legal and practical next steps you need to take to resolve your problem.

Here's what a few clients say about my help:

"After receiving a letter from the Housing Dept, I was in a panic! i envisioned all the worst scenarios. Andy quickly calmed me down and together we worked out solutions. He was so knowledgeable and calm, he was just a pleasure to work with. My experience with Andy was excellent."
- Ray B., Duplex Property Owner, Los Angeles, CA (last name withheld by request)

“Andy provided me with all the legal information to get my guest house in full compliance with Building & Safety [and] legal issues will be avoided in the future. He also helped me evict a problem tenant from a guest house. He handed the distribution of relocation assistance funds through his escrow account to the tenant. He also handled the LA Housing Department. He kept me informed of my legal rights and accomplished all of his fiduciary duties with the highest level of care throughout the process. Andy knows the eviction laws and the building codes inside and out. I highly recommend Andy Baker and his services.”
– Nicholas Martinez, Homeowner, Van Nuys, C

Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC Is Here for You

At the Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC, we focus on your concerns by listening to you as we help you navigate the legal system.

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The Law Offices of Andrew S. Baker, APLC is committed to answering your questions about Illegal Conversions for Houses and Apartments, Construction, Land Use, and Real Estate law issues in California.

We offer a free consultation and we'll gladly discuss your case with you at your convenience. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.