You are reading this guide because you are probably tired of seeing your apartment building fall into disrepair. Maybe you wondered why an owner would run into the ground his own investment. It is because some Beverly Hills landlords treat their apartment houses like a consumable: they pull out the cash without reinvesting in the maintenance. We have laws against dilapidation. Why doesn’t Beverly Hills enforce them?
Properties about with peeling paint, cracked plaster, leaky roofs are telltale signs of under-investment. A tattered tarp on the roof month after month is nothing more than neglect. There are other signs, too, that suggest a property owner is not living up to his obligation to upkeep our most important renewable resource: rental housing.
Too often the tenant is put in the position of being the city’s unofficial housing inspector. Our complaint-driven system depends on tenant complaints; there is no systematic housing inspections. Even Community Preservation officers don’t work proactively. That allows evident problems to fester and our apartment houses to deteriorate.
There are many local and state codes that require maintenance but the distinction between indifference and neglect is important: not all evident signs of deterioration will trigger a code enforcement citation. Here we offer a spotter’s guide of sorts. What to look for when evaluating a property’s exterior.
What Does the Law Say About Maintenance?
State Health and Safety codes clearly enumerate the problem conditions that beg enforcement: deteriorated foundation and floor supports; sagging roofs and eaves; crumbling plaster and weathered paint (or lack thereof); rotted sills; and much, much more. It is simply against the law in California to allow a property to deteriorate due to “improper maintenance” (Health and Safety Code § 17920.3).
Beverly Hills has also established our own regulations for property maintenance. In fact the Municipal Code has dedicated a whole code chapter to it! Maintenance and Sanitation of Premises (§ 5–7–4) describes conditions that “do not comport with a safe, clean, orderly, sanitary and aesthetic condition”:
- Buildings with deteriorating or peeling paint;
- Decay, dry rot, warping, or cracking;
- Broken windows, doors, attic vents, or underfloor vents;
- Improperly maintained landscaping, such as untrimmed hedges and shrubbery, and vegetation “which is unsightly” and likely to harbor rats or vermin;
- Dead, decayed, or diseased trees, weeds, and other vegetation as well as trees, shrubbery, or lawns are deprived of plant life due to lack of water;
- Lumber, junk, trash, debris, or salvage materials visible from a public street, alley, or adjoining property;
- Abandoned, discarded, or unused furniture, stoves, sinks, toilets, cabinets, or other household fixtures stored where visible;
- Accumulation of dirt, litter, or debris in vestibules, doorways on the premises, or adjoining walkways;
- Mounds of soil, dry grass, weeds, dead trees, tin cans, abandoned asphalt or concrete, rubbish, refuse, or waste or other unsanitary material; and,
- Building exteriors, walls, fences, driveways, or walkways which are cracked, broken, defective, deteriorated, in disrepair, or defaced.
We know a landlord on Reeves who managed to check every box on the 5–7–4 list. After some Renters Alliance code complaints (and a few months later) things are looking better! That shows that with perseverance a tenant really can be an effective lay housing inspector.
The problem is that when some landlords bleed the property for cash flow, the result is peeling paint, cracked stucco, dry-rotted window sills and worse. Those conditions affect not only the tenants but the neighborhood too. The city itself makes this point in the Maintenance and Sanitation of Premises chapter:
The council has determined that the city has an extensive and widely recognized history and reputation for well kept properties and that the general welfare of the city is founded, in part, upon the appearance and maintenance of properties…The council has determined that it is desirous to enhance and promote the maintenance of property and the enhancement of the livability, community appearance, and the social and economic conditions of the community.
Beverly Hills has an interest in keeping the rental housing stock maintained but without a systematic inspection program it is up to us to do the job. Here are a few tips for the lay housing inspectors among us!
Case Study of Dilapidation: 126 North Almont Drive
Let’s take a look at a poorly-maintained rental property to show where the Maintenance and Sanitation of Premises list of potential violations may apply. Take 126 North Almont: it is case study in apartment house decline. This once-proud Spanish Revival was built in 1930 by local builder John Naylor. But it has been allowed to deteriorate by the landlord, Parivash Laaly, the owner since 1981, as these images show.
Renters Alliance has highlighted the kind of violations that appear most frequently across poorly-maintained rental properties. (Not all will show the breadth of violations that 126 North Almont does.) To report a problem property call the city’s rent stabilization program at (310) 285–1031. Be sure to ask for a complaint number because the key to effective code enforcement is follow-up. Better yet, report violations online.
Report Problem Rental Properties Online
Reporting a violation online is advised because that will generate an official record of the complaint. First set up a user account and then log in to the comcate reporting system system. Then follow these steps:
- Enter the account username and password
- Click on ‘submit request’ in the top menu
- Choose the ’renters issues’ topic tab
- From the drop-down menu select the only choice: ‘renters issues’
- Click ‘next’ to advance, then click ‘next’ to advance again to the complaint screen
- Choose the ‘complaint’ radio box, describe the problem, and using the ‘attach a file’ link provide any relevant documentation (up to five files)
- Click ‘submit’
The key is follow-up! Mark the calendar to call Community Preservation at (310) 285–1141 after a week or so to find out which officer is assigned to the case. Then contact the officer directly to see how the investigation is progressing. (We have seen cases summarily closed for one excuse or another. Follow-up ensures the case stays active.)
Properties like 126 North Almont are allowed to decline despite state and local codes because City Hall has never taken an active role in policing the condition of rental housing in Beverly Hills. It has been up to tenants to report owners like Parivash Laaly who put landlord profit before the health and safety of tenants (not to mention the welfare of the larger community).
That’s a shame because a properly maintained residential building has no natural end-of-life. It should be rehabbed and refreshed. The plumbing and electrical systems should be replaced. With prudent planning an aging rental property is a renewable resource that provides relatively-affordable housing generation-after-generation. Europeans are living in three-century old flats after all!
Do you have experience with a landlord who refuses to maintain his premises? We want to know. Get in touch with Renters Alliance and share your story.