A Means & Method Plan is required by City of Beverly Hills whenever construction work will significantly impact tenants. The purpose of the plan is to inform tenants about the work and to protect tenants from construction impacts. The Plan must be approved by the rent stabilization office before the property owner can obtain the necessary permit. But the Means & Method Plan process works better in theory than practice. Let us explain!
What is a Means & Method Plan?
The Beverly Hills Municipal Code requires a Means & Method Plan to be submitted and approved by the city prior to construction or remodeling that will “impact the habitability of any unit” (B.H.M.C. 9–1–108(L)). The provision is not part of the rent stabilization ordinance, though. A tenant will not find the requirement in the Rights and Responsibilities Handbook provided to all tenants when a lease is signed. Nor is it featured prominently on the rent stabilization office website.
To learn about the Means & Method Plan requirement a tenant will have to inadvertantly wander into the forms section of the rent stabilization office website where most tenants won’t likely look. Alternately the eye can wander to a relatively obscure subsection of the Municipal Code familiar only to city building officials: ‘submittal documents.’ (The subsection is located in the administrative code for building standards, which is itself in the technical codes chapter of the building and property health and safety regulations. Easy!)
The Means & Method Plan is important because it discloses to tenants when work will begin and what that work will mean for apartment occupants. But really the key aspect of the Means & Method Plan requirement is not so much the plan but the notice provided to tenants:
Before a permit can be issued for the alteration/repair/rehabilitation of a building which required an applicant to prepare a construction means and method plan pursuant to this code, the applicant must certify that all tenants of the property will receive the information required, in a form approved by the city, within ten (10) days following the issuance of the permit and that no work will commence under the permit until ten (10) days after all tenants are notified. This notice shall either be hand delivered to each tenant of the property or sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. — B.H.M.C. 9–1–108 subsection (O)(1)
The notice must include a “detailed description of the nature and type of construction activity” and the scheduling of the work if it interferes with housing services like laundry, parking, elevators, water and power, as well as ancillary impacts like dust and vibration. You know — quality-of-life killers.
The notice is the key aspect because that’s all that’s given to tenants. It informs tenants that they can obtain a free copy of the Means & Method Plan from the landlord but the plan itself is not part of the tenant package.
Two elements of the Plan approval process will be welcomed by tenants: the 10 days advance notice given before construction commences; and the progress reports provided when work extends past 30 days. That latter provision is described in the code this way:
For construction projects that exceed thirty (30) days in duration as measured from the date that construction commences, the applicant shall also inform the tenants that the applicant will provide twice monthly notices to the tenants regarding the progress of construction and will schedule monthly meetings to address the construction progress and obtain tenant input and feedback regarding the construction. — B.H.M.C. 9–1–108 subsection (O)(2)(j)
Keep in mind this part: “…the applicant shall also inform the tenants that the applicant will provide twice monthly notices to the tenants regarding the progress of construction…” We will come back to that soon.
The disclosure provided by a Means & Method Plan plan may mean the difference between knowing that construction is coming and what to expect; and expecting nothing at all until the work crew shows up to rip into the walls for a remodel.
When is a Means & Method Plan Required?
The Municipal Code enumerates the construction impacts that would trigger the preparation of a Means & Method Plan prior to obtaining a permit to do the work. These include:
- An inaccessible lavatory, bathtub or shower; a lack of hot and cold water or heat; no electrical service; and/or insufficient light or ventilation.
- Some structural deficiency such as flooring or floor supports; insufficient weatherproofing; broken windows and doors; and blocked ingress or egress.
- And threat of fire such as when “the building, premises, or portion thereof, device, apparatus, equipment, combustible waste or vegetation is in such a condition as to cause a fire or explosion or provide a ready fuel to augment the spread and intensity of fire….”
Those are some serious impacts! That’s why the Means & Method Plan identifies mitigations that could minimize such impacts. That could include, for example, limiting the hours of construction or the power outage; ventilating the premises; or perhaps extra care in the handling and storage of construction materials.
In fact the city provides project applicants with a checklist of impacts that can degrade habitability and asks applicants to specify the mitigation (if any). Perhaps dust, noise and an inaccessible elevator or pool is the impact; mitigations could be dust control, AM and PM elevator access, and a cash rebate for loss of pool privileges.
When interior work is significant (think mold remediation) and the impacts cannot be mitigated, the tenant will be provided with a “fair and reasonable relocation benefit.” That could be a mutual agreement of some kind or even alternate accommodations within the city that is equal to what is provided by the apartment. That may include but not be limited to laundry, balcony, kitchen and parking and the alternate accommodations will be described in the relocation plan section of the Means & Method Plan.
What are the Steps in the Means & Method Plan Process?
- When the property owner applies for a permit he is asked if the structure contains two or more dwelling units. If so the applicant is presented with the Means & Method Plan form. The form requires the applicant to describe the work, whether it entails hazardous material (e.g., asbestos), and whether the work will affect tenanted units. If so the applicant works through a checklist of possible impacts and proposed mitigations.
- The rent stabilization office reviews the plan. If the impacts warrant relocation, the applicant is advised to discuss arrangements with the tenant. Alternately, the applicant fills out a relocation plan form.
- If the Plan is sufficient, the rent stabilization office signs off on it and the applicant gets his permit(s). “No permit shall be issued until a satisfactory means and method plan is approved by the city building official, if required,” says B.H.M.C. 9–1–108 subsection (L)(3).
- The applicant then must provide notice to tenants to include a description of the work, the scheduling of construction, contact information for the project manager and the city, and more.
- Finally, after an approved Means & Method Plan the work can begin ten days later.
Means & Method Plan in Theory & Practice
The Means & Method Plan requirement has long been part of the Municipal Code but it was seldom enforced. Consequently multifamily residents bore the brunt of unmitigated construction and often right next door on the other side of a shared wall. Because tenants generally didn’t know about the Plan requirement they could not expect, say, limited work hours, dust protection, or even relocation. We have heard many stories of tenants summarily told to stay with a relative to save the owner the cost of relocation. No more.
Once the rent stabilization office came into being, changed things for the better. For one thing, the Means & Method Plan requirement was better enforced. Since then the office has approved hundreds of Means & Method Plans. And the other thing is that the Means & Method Plan form has been substantially revised. It now does a far better job of identifying anticipated construction impacts and proposed mitigations because today it includes a checklist.
Before there was only an open-ended general question about construction impacts and mitigation and the applicant was free to be specific or to obfuscate. “We will make sure all windows and doors are closed at all times,” was the mitigation pledge in one approved Means & Method Plan (below). Of course the windows and doors on that job were not closed at all times but who was checking?
Still there are reasons why the Means & Method Plan doesn’t protect tenants as well as it should. Most obviously tenants don’t know about the requirement. Tenants will find no mention of it in the rent stabilization ordinance or even on the rent stabilization tenants webpage. Other reasons:
The Means & Method Plan does not offer tenants an opportunity to comment. In fact tenants don’t learn about impacts and mitigations until the Plan is approved. Even when we share a common wall with the unit getting gutted or remodeled. However when construction or demolition will affect property owners, Building & Safety requires a sign posted on the premises 10 days in advance in order to give neighbors an opportunity to comment prior to the applicant getting his permit.
Once approved, the Means & Method Plan is not provided to tenants. The city approves the plan but does not make it available to tenants. Instead tenants receive only a notice about the Plan. The city directs tenants who ask about the document to contact the landlord.
The applicant is not required to keep his tenants informed of work progress. The noticing requirement obligates the applicant to tell tenants that he will provide a progress report under certain conditions but the relevant section of the Municipal Code does not require the applicant to actually provide the progress report. From the code:
For construction projects that exceed thirty (30) days in duration as measured from the date that construction commences, the applicant shall also inform the tenants that the applicant will provide twice monthly notices to the tenants regarding the progress of construction and will schedule monthly meetings to address the construction progress and obtain tenant input and feedback regarding the construction. — B.H.M.C. 9–1–108 subsection (O)(2)(i)
When the scope of work changes there is no requirement that the applicant update or revise the Means & Method Plan. The city seems to think it’s satisfactory to “set it and forget it.” So when construction deviates from the approved Means & Method Plan in scope, scheduling, impacts or mitigations, the applicant need not update the approved Plan nor notify the tenants of any changes.
The city does not follow up to ensure that the applicant complies with the approved Means & Method Plan. Without enforcement the Means & Method Plan process becomes a formality. Today it falls on the tenants to hold the applicant accountable for any deviation from the approved Plan or for unanticipated and/or unmitigated construction impacts.
The city assigns no inspector or building official to the project. The city requires the applicant to identify a project management for tenant contact, but that designee may not be responsive. When the tenant turns to the city he finds only a general phone number for the building department — no specific official responsible for the project.
Project managers can brush-off a tenant’s concern with no worry of punishment. The Means & Method Plan looks good on paper but what good is it if the city has set no performance standard for the project manager? When he chooses not to respond there is no sanction, no stop-work order, no penalty at all.
Bad Faith Applicants
Of course the Means & Method Plan requirement does no good when there is no Plan submitted to begin with. There are construction jobs where a Means & Method Plan would be required but the landlord avoids his responsibility. For example when:
The landlord does work without a permit. This is a common occurrence. For example, a kitchen or bath remodel, or even the installation of laminate flooring, requires a permit. But if no permit is pulled then there is no Plan required and no notice is provided to tenants. Consequently there is no city review.
Last year we reported the owner of 348 South Elm for a gut-renovation of a unit (including the removal of a load-bearing wall) without any permit. The city stopped the work and required the owner to obtain building, plumbing, electrical and asbestos abatement (!) permits. No doubt there was an added cost for getting those retroactively but there was no Means & Method Plan ever provided to tenants — and surely no appropriate penalty paid for the oversight.
The landlord misrepresents the scope of work on a permit application. How this works is the landlord obtains a relatively limited permit (say for new kitchen cabinets) but then proceeds to remodel the kitchen and more. We’ve seen a permit like that pulled only to demo the interior of the unit. That kind of work is of much longer duration — and the impacts much greater. All without an approved Means & Method Plan.
We recommend to the city that it plug several Means & Method Plan holes if the process is to be more effective in protecting tenants.
- Make tenants aware of the Means & Method Plan requirement. The intent of the process is to protect tenants from construction impacts. Shouldn’t we know before the work crew shows up with sledgehammers?
- Allow tenants to review and comment on the draft Means & Method Plan. The applicant should post a notice of availability on the premises followed by a 10-day period for comment. We should have a say in the construction schedule and the mitigations because the impacts affect us directly!
- Provide the Plan to tenants in hardcopy or by email and post it at the premises. Make the Means & Method Plan available on the City Smart online platform where the construction permits are posted.
- Require the applicant to regularly inform tenants about the progress of work. And require the applicant to revise and resubmit the Plan when the work changes in scope or schedule and when impacts or mitigations deviate from the approved Plan.
- Proactively inspect work commenced under an approved Means & Method Plan. This should be the responsibility of an inspector or building official appointed at the beginning. This would be the city contact when the applicant’s project manager is not responsive.
- The city should assign an inspector or building official to every job that requires a Means & Method Plan and provide that contact to tenants in the posted notice. Better yet, establish a sanction when an applicant’s project manager is not responsive to tenant concerns. We must establish expectations for performance!
- And finally, the city should adopt a real penalty for property owners who fail to file a Means & Method Plan because they undertook such work without a permit or appear to have minimized the scope or impacts of the work in order to avoid having to prepare a Means & Method Plan.
The penalty for bad-faith avoidance of the Means & Method Plan is essential. That’s because the property owner would be shortchanging tenants by not providing advance notice or identifying impacts to be mitigated. Some tenants may even qualify for relocation but they won’t get that “fair and reasonable relocation benefit” as promised in the Municipal Code because he has improperly avoided the filing of the required relocation plan.
We know of a tenant who is out of her unit five days for (belated) mold remediation and her landlord has offered her just $250 in a rebate on rent. In our book that is simply criminal. Heck, there should be a law against it!
(Have you been informed about an Means & Method Plan for construction on the premises? Have you had a bad experience with construction impacts or the city’s response to complaints? Please let us know.)