A means & method plan is required by City of Beverly Hills whenever construction or remodeling will significantly impact tenants. The purpose of the plan is to inform tenants about the nature and duration of the work and to identify impact mitigations where possible. The Plan is required before the property owner pulls the permit. The process is intended to protect tenants but sometimes it works better in theory than in practice. Let us explain!
When is a Means & Method Plan Required?
Prior to obtaining a permit to “alter, repair, or rehabilitate” a structure that contains one or more dwelling units occupied by a tenant, and where the proposed construction work could impact the habitability of any unit, a permit applicant must submit a construction means and method plan for approval. The process is triggered when a permit is pulled for the work.
The means & method plan is generally required when construction work related to structural hazards like “defective or deteriorating” floorboards, walls or ceilings is to be performed. Work to remedy fire hazards and serious habitability deficiencies (like ineffective weatherproofing) will also require a plan. Generally speaking, construction work to address any serious code violation could require a means & method plan if an impact to the tenant will last more than one day.
For example, lack of access to bathroom or kitchen facilities anticipated for more than one day will trigger the plan requirement. If construction work necessitates an interruption to water, heating, sewage or electrical service for more than one day, a plan is required. The triggers are enumerated in municipal code section 9-1-108(L) and described in detail in this means & method plan application excerpt.
The means & method plan discloses construction impacts to tenants and provides tenants with a means to hold the landlord accountable for mitigating them.
Means & Method: The Notice
The means & method plan requirement comprises two documents: the notice of the construction work which must be provided to all affected tenants; and the plan itself which is not required to be provided to tenants. (It can be requested from the landlord.)
The notice is described in the municipal code chapter related to building permits:
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 means & method plan notice must describe the construction work that will be performed and provide the tenant with the scheduling of the work. Importantly, the notice must identify housing services, such as laundry, parking, elevators, and utilities, that may be interrupted by the work. The notice must also inform tenants that mitigation measures may be available for construction impacts such as noise, dust, and vibrations. Relocation to temporary accommodations, or a negotiated temporary rent reduction, may also be negotiated.
The means and method plan notice is about disclosure: the construction work that is proposed to occur, the tenant’s rights under the process, such as inspection of the means & method plan, and the contact information for the landlord and the city. Read more about the requirements in this excerpt related to the required contents of the notice.
Additional noticing is required for construction projects that exceed thirty days from the date that construction commences:
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. — 9–1–108 subsection (O)(2)(j)
The landlord must inform tenants about the progress of construction if it lasts for more than 30 days and hear from tenants about conditions at the worksite. This should be a substantive discussion with tenants, not a pro-forma, check-the-box exercise.
One important aspect of disclosure is scheduling of the construction work: it cannot begin sooner than 10 days after the notice is provided to tenants. The 10-day period allows tenants to anticipate the construction and perhaps plan around it.
Again, the means & method notice is required to be provided but not the actual means & method plan. Still the notice may be sufficient for most tenants. Many construction jobs are not extensive or impactful to neighbors. A kitchen and bathroom remodel, for example, requires a permit and may trigger the plan requirement, but it may not particularly impactful. Still we suggest that tenants obtain and review the full plan because it is good to be informed and comparing the plan to actual conditions is a means to hold the landlord accountable.
Means & Method: The Plan
The means & method plan notice is the tenant’s initial heads-up that construction will occur. The means & method plan itself is where construction impacts and proposed mitigations are fully discussed. For extensive construction work such as seismic retrofit, major remodeling, or structural repairs, we strongly recommend that all tenants review the actual plan. It is available upon request to the landlord. If relocation is necessary, that arrangement is formalized in a separate section.
The means & method plan provides the city (and the tenant) with important disclosures from the applicant:
- The property owner, contractor and ‘responsible person’ for the job with contact information provided for each;
- Whether hazardous materials are implicated and the contractor hired to abate asbestos, lead paint or mold;
- A description of the construction process ‘organized sequentially’;
- And the anticipated start and end dates for the work.
The following section provides a checklist for ‘impact on tenants’ that includes dust, noise, hazardous material and ‘other’ impacts — along with measures proposed to mitigate each indicated impact. This is the section that tenants should review carefully. Ask:
- Do the described impacts reflect the nature of the construction work?
- Do the mitigations reflect careful consideration about how the work will affect tenants?
- Does this section in general suggest a good-faith effort or a check-the-box exercise?
The means & method plan that does not pass the smell test should be contested with the rent stabilization division and, if the division is not helpful, the city’s building official.
Generally most concerning to tenants are noise, ventilation, dust and the handling of construction debris. These impacts (and mitigations) should be scrutinized. Again, this section should not be a cynical check-the-box exercise on the way to pulling the permit. These have to be meaningfully described and addressed.
A subsequent section identifies basic housing services that may be interrupted, such as electricity, water and gas, as well as flags when access to kitchen and bathroom facilities may be limited. Tenants should pay particular attention to the days and times when utilities may be interrupted or particularly intrusive construction is scheduled to occur. Tenants can negotiate more limited the hours of construction (for example something shorter than the 8am-to-6pm hours allowed by the city) or perhaps a more limited power outage (several hours instead of an entire day).
This section also addresses worksite conditions that may impact tenants. The applicant should be willing to work with the tenant to limit these impacts, where possible, and tenants can hold the landlord accountable to the construction schedule and pledges to reduce, say, debris hanging around the property too long.
A subsequent section identifies amenities that may be temporarily inaccessible during construction such as like off-street parking, pool and private storage. This is the tenant’s opportunity to negotiate cash compensation for these lost amenities.
Take seismic retrofit for example. The work often limits off-street parking and may require the relocation of personal belongings from in-garage storage cabinets. The landlord should pay for off-street parking if necessary and pay to temporarily store tenant belongings.
Likewise when windows or flooring is replaced (following water damage) the tenant should negotiate pet accommodation or compensation as necessary.
Another function of the means & method plan is to formalize the relocation plan (if required). When interior work is extensive, like major remodeling, or is hazardous, like mold remediation or removal of asbestos or lead paint, the tenant should be relocated. The plan formalizes it: alternate accommodations within the city which are equal to what is provided to the tenant or a “fair and reasonable relocation benefit.”
That may include, but not be limited to, accommodations with laundry, balcony, kitchen and parking as the tenant enjoys today. This could be another unit at the property, a comparable unit elsewhere, or a hotel (or some other mutually agreed arrangement). It will all be described in the relocation plan section of the means & method plan.
An important point to remember is that construction work can proceed so long as the landlord meets the city’s requirements. There will be impacts. But the means & method notice and plan at least discloses it to tenants who can then hold the landlord accountable if the work deviates from the plan. Were there no plan, then the first indication of construction would be when the sledgehammer hits the drywall next door.
Renters Alliance is working on improvements to the means & method process that would, among other things, require the notice and plan be provided to the tenant. Stay tuned!
Means & Method Plan: In Theory and in Practice
The means & method plan requirement has long been part of the municipal code. But because it was seldom enforced. For too long, multifamily residents got wind of construction next door only after it commenced.
Community Development Department has addressed more egregious wrongs by, first, requiring that the means & method plan be passed-by the rent stabilization division prior to going to building & safety for the permit. Building officials are not as accustomed to dealing with tenants. The rent stabilization division is better at anticipating problems. That alone should make the process work better.
Second, the forms have been revised. Once upon a time, mitigation was addressed in a single open-ended question about construction impacts. And applicants often got away with a lazy answer like, “We will make sure all windows and doors are closed at all times.” Of course the windows and doors on that job were not closed at all times but who was checking? Nobody.
The Means & Method form has been substantially revised to do a better job of identifying anticipated construction impacts and proposed mitigations. (Not least it includes a checklist to help contractors, who may be unaccustomed to the concept, identify likely impacts and propose appropriate mitigation measures.) Yet we still see disputes arise between tenants, who are often frustrated by construction impacts, and landlords who don’t really engage with tenants’ concerns.
For their part, building & safety don’t do a great job of keeping on top of construction sites and holding landlords to account for commitments they made in the plan but not met at the workplace. There are other problems with the process too:
Lack of meaningful sanctions. A landlord can misrepresent the scope of work on a permit application and pay not penalty. For example, a permit may indicate new kitchen cabinets, and it may value the job at a couple of thousand bucks, however the neighbor next door is witness to a full kitchen remodel (maybe including demolition) and new laminate floors too. That presents real impacts yet the landlord has made a fiction of the impacts-and-mitigation aspect of the plan.
Landlord impunity. The city makes construction work without a permit a rational choice for landlords. For example, the kitchen remodel and laminate flooring job requires a permit. But if no permit is pulled then the landlord will benefit several ways: there is no cost for the permit because no permit is pulled; there is no means & method plan required because it was not triggered by a permit application; and there is no 10-day delay because no notice need be provided to tenants. Win-win-win!
Take for example our experience last year at 348 South Elm. Walking by we heard the sounds of demolition. Upstairs, a gut-renovation of a unit was underway, including the removal of a load-bearing wall, without any permit. After a call to the city inspectors showed up and stopped the work. The longtime owner was required to obtain building, plumbing, electrical and asbestos abatement (!) permits.
No doubt there was some financial penalty for not having pulled permits, but it pales next to the savings of not hiring a licensed hazardous abatement contractor and otherwise expediting the work. The landlord’s rational choice was to do it by hook or by crook, but this time she got caught.
Another reason why the means & method plan requirement is not as effective as it can be is because tenants don’t generally know about the requirement. (That’s why this explainer!) A tenant will not find the requirement in the rent stabilization ordinance; it is in the building code section. Nor will a tenant stumble across it on the rent stabilization division webpage. Instead it is tucked away in the ‘forms’ webpage where a tenant won’t go looking for it.
Have you had a bad experience with a means & method plan or the city’s response to your complaint? Please get in touch!)