How to Solve your Biggest Problem with Land Use, Zoning, and Code Enforcement

Land Use is a complex and confusing area of law is. It can encompass a number of areas, but I have found these are the most prevalent:

  • Building Codes
  • Building Permits
  • Code Enforcement
  • Administrative hearings for local Building Department infractions, Housing Department violations, Variances and Nuisance Abatement
  • Zoning Issues
  • Conditional use permits
  • Criminal prosecution
  • Civil litigation

Every municipality is different, yet they are all modeled on the same or a similar platform which means I save time in checking the codes and YOU save money in defending or prosecuting your case.

Building Codes & Permits

It's important, if not crucial to know beforehand, all the “nuts and bolts” of the legal building process to legally transform a structure to conform to your city or county's local requirements. Even thorough research may not be enough to avert significant financial loss to the property owner. If, for example, your city won't accept the new conversion and there is no other alternative option to comply with the law, you may be forced to reconvert your illegal unit back to its original condition, and thousands of dollars may be lost because of lack of precaution and information; believe me, I've seen it.

Take a garage conversion for instance; to convert a garage into any habitable space - like a bedroom, kitchen, den, office, etc., it is not legally possible without first looking into your city's current local building codes, planning and zoning regulations that may apply to the property. A garage structure is not an approved occupied space for people; it's a required space for covered, off-street parking. 

Once the use of the garage changes to a habitable space, it is considered as a new “conditioned space”, required to comply with specific technical and legal standards that were not previously required. Most building codes require permits to “construct, enlarge, alter, repair, change the occupancy,” and also to “install any electrical or plumbing system.”

In terms of Building Code regulations, cities are concerned that the property owner complies with some basic building code standards, such as structural integrity, ingress, and egress, fire, electric, plumbing, air circulation, ventilation, insulation, lighting, heating, and cooling, seismic compliance, etc.

When the use of a structure is modified, building plans are required. This may be accomplished by a draftsperson, an engineer, or an architect. Which one do you choose and when? We can help.

Once the plans are approved (it will take several attempts), permits will be issued. Which permits? How much do they cost? How long are they good for and what do they cover? What if you don't get the permits? We can explain.

Code Enforcement

Property owners up and down the state of California are often cited for unpermitted work that violates the city/county building code. It may be a garage conversion or a commercial structure that has been altered without the appropriate and required permits. ADA approval (or the lack of it) comes up frequently. Sometimes we will see a commercial business being run out of a facility that was not intended or zoned for that use.

The typical citing agencies are the city/county Building and/or Planning Departments (which may stand on their own or be a division within a larger agency). To help you start to understand what's going on and what you have to do – I'm going to give you 7 tips that will help calm your nerves and set you on a course of action. Click here to learn the 7 tips!

Violations of Building Codes often result in Administrative Hearings. In my experience, it is absolutely CRUCIAL that a property owner has knowledgeable legal counsel at these hearings. For instance, in the city of Los Angeles, when dealing with multifamily properties, owners must battle the Housing & Community Investment Department (“HCID”). Simply put, HCID has unbelievable ways of trampling on owner's rights and costing owners thousands of dollars a month by diverting rents and charging administrative fees. The place to nip that in the bud is at the General Manager's Meeting administrative hearing, using an array of strategies and tactics.

A common tactic of California cities is to file criminal charges against an owner who is either not complying or is taking too long to do so. This can result in fines and penalties and within the past few years, I have witnessed multiple property owners sent to jail! DON'T LET THAT HAPPEN TO YOU!


In regard to zoning and planning, cities generally require the property owner to have or maintain required side, back, and front-yards (setbacks) from property lines; maintain the number of required parking spaces; limit the uses on the property, sometimes comply with a Historic Preservation Zone, meet the Coastal Commission requirements, and measure the use of new space/structure with any impact on the neighborhood and community.

Basically, before doing any significant design and construction work, the property owner needs to make a thorough analysis and research into his/her city's current zoning, planning, and building code regulations, requirements and restrictions. This can be a very arduous and time-consuming task, and sometimes due to a lack of knowledge about the subject, property owners may get confusing or misleading information, as well as not being totally aware of the real opportunities and alternative venues to make the intended work feasible and legally approved.

It is within zoning that alternative land uses often come into play. For instance, an owner may want a Change of Use permit or a Variance, which is a safety valve preventing a property from becoming unusable if the zoning code is strictly applied. It protects an owner against an unconstitutional taking and allows the owner to enjoy the benefits afforded to other properties in the applicable zone. A typical use of a variance is to provide relief from design or development standards such as height, density, setback, floor area ratio, parking, or other requirements. Applicants must show that 1) they will suffer practical difficulties and unnecessary hardships in the absence of the variance, 2) these hardships result from special circumstances relating to the property that are not shared by other properties in the area, and 3) the variance is necessary to bring the applicants into parity with other property owners in the same zone and vicinity.

Call me, Andy Baker, for a free,
25 minute Consultation

We'll “meet” on the phone, talk about your particular legal issue and we'll see if I can be of further assistance to you. 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. Understand the nature of your legal matter
  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.

After 25+ years as an attorney working on both simple and complex legal issues, with government agencies all over California, I'm familiar with how the system works in the areas of law I practice, what the codes and land use terminology actually mean in legal and practical terms, and how they are interpreted by different building inspectors, housing inspectors, city attorneys, district attorneys and judges. Put all this together and it means your Free Consultation is a good place to start.

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.

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

“Andy provided detailed and personalized attention to our legal matter. With his legal advice and opinion he was able to turn our city government into retracting their initial order to demolish an accessory structure on our property.. We had gotten nowhere in 6 months. It only took Mr. Baker 2 weeks to get our city to respond. We commend Mr. Baker for his professionalism and look forward to recommending him to other residents in our city.”
– Sandra Gonzalez, Homeowner, Paramount, CA

"I have been working in real estate for over 30 years, and have been relying on Andy Baker's advice for half that time.  He is very thorough, responds quickly, and keeps my stress down!"
– Ron Lepp, Property Manager, Beverly Hills, CA

"I have used Andy Baker's services twice, once in San Clemente and once in Santa Ana. Each city would not let me go forward with building plans they said violated one of their laws. Andy's best idea was to focus an argument on mainly two of the strongest angles. One, displaying faults in the opposer's argument, showing how their developmental standard imposition was completely wrong. And two, backing up our case with one specific law that undisputedly proved us right. Each time the city attorney immediately retracted wrongful impositions they were carrying out. We wound up with a written email from each city admitting their errors and acceptance of our proposed building plans. Andy was most helpful in being able to communicate to an authority that has power over civilians. Afterwards there were no unexpected surprises."
– Connor B. (last name withheld upon request)

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.

Contact Us Today

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.