Making the Means and Methods Plan Better: Our Recommendations

The city requires a means & method plan when construction will affect other tenants in a multifamily property. The plan discloses the nature of the work, identifies likely impacts, and proposes measures to mitigate impacts. But we hear from tenants that the means & method process is not protecting them. The process needs improvement and here is what we recommend to make it work better for tenants.

The means & method plan requirement is described to building permit applicants right at the top of the application:

If the property is tenant occupied and, as determined by the building official, the construction work could impact the habitability of any unit on the property, prior to obtaining a permit, the applicant shall submit a construction means and method plan….

For the tenant the purpose of the means & method plan is notification of impending construction work and disclosure of anticipated construction impacts (like noise, dust, interruption of utilities and workplace conditions) as well as hazardous material abatement, if any. For more about the plan read our updated explainer, Means and Method Plan: What You Need to Know.

The means & method plan process is kicked-off by the permit applicant. If required, the means & method plan first goes to the rent stabilization division for review and then passes on to the building & safety division of the Community Development Department. Unless revision is necessary, building & safety approve the permit. The neighboring tenants are formally notified and 10 days later the work may commence.

The problem is that submittal of a means & method plan is merely a step in the building permit process. The requirement is specified in building code section 9–1–108 (‘SUBMITTAL DOCUMENTS’). It is simply a step on the way to obtaining the permit…a box to be ticked. But the means & method plan requirement is supposed to be about tenant protection. In fact West Hollywood and Santa Monica each have made that obligation explicit by adopting municipal code chapters titled, ‘Tenant Protection During Construction.’ Not Beverly Hills!

Our city’s approach is reflected in the municipal code subsection titled ‘Tenant Noticing Requirement’ (9–1–108(O)(2)(f)). The landlord is required by the city to provide tenants only with a notice that the plan is available for review, but he is not obligated to actually provide either the means & method plan or the associated tenant relocation plan. Imagine: a tenant will be temporarily located and to learn more she has to request the relocation plans from the landlord?

Renters Alliance looks at everything from the tenant’s perspective. We have provided city officials with a laundry list of means & method plan process recommendations and we present those proposed fixes — and more — here for your consideration.

It’s important that the means & method plan process be improved now because seismic retrofit work is underway in our neighborhoods. Almost one-third of our older, wood-frame residential rental structures erected before 1978 are in need of retrofitting, and work must be completed within the next few years to ensure that they meet current seismic standards. A means & method plan is likely required in most instances.

We always want to hear from tenants about their experience. Have you had a bad experience with a means & method plan? Please get in touch!)

Renters Alliance Recommendations

Problem Recommended fix
The landlord need not provide the approved means & method plan to tenants because the building code requires tenants only be provided with a notice of the plan. The tenant is afforded the “right to review and receive free copies” of the plan but must request the actual plan from the landlord. The city does not post the plan online. Require permit applicants to provide both the means & method plan and the relocation plan to tenants (as West Hollywood requires) without making the tenant chase the landlord to obtain the plan(s). The city should post all means & method plans and relocation plans online at the city’s permit portal and post at least one paper copy at the premises.
The rent stabilization division does not have final say over the means & method plan; the building & safety division does. The rent stabilization division merely reviews the plan beforehand. The rent stabilization division should have to formally approve the means & method plan (as in West Hollywood).
The means & method plan process does not provide an opportunity for tenants to comment on anticipated impacts and proposed mitigation measures prior to plan approval. The tenant is notified only after the plan is approved. Yet the tenant may “seek mitigation from the property owner for nuisance conditions at the property, including, but not limited to, noise, dust, vibrations, utility shutoffs and other construction impacts.” How does that work? A draft means & method plan should be provided with the notice to tenants, which would commence a 10-day period for tenant input prior to plan approval. Tenants could then suggest mitigation measures appropriate for anticipated construction impacts prior to issuance of the building permit. Tenants could also request amended construction hours or otherwise have an opportunity to discuss with city officials the anticipated impacts.
The landlord’s identified project manager is sometimes not responsive to tenant concerns in a timely manner, and perhaps unavailable on nights and weekends. However the building code says the landlord must designate a project manager to respond to “tenant inquiries, complaints, and requests for mitigation of nuisance conditions.” Require the landlord to designate a project manager AND an emergency contact who will be available after hours and on weekends. Include the contact telephone numbers on the notice to tenants and post those names and numbers at, or near, the entrance to the property while work is underway.
There is no particular city building & safety official for tenants to contact. The means & method plan notice advises tenants they can contact the city’s building & safety division when conditions are unsafe, or when work departs in scope or kind from the means and method plan, but tenants don’t know how to navigate that division nor is any official available after-hours and on weekends (calls go voicemail). Assign a responsible city official to each job that has a means & method plan. That could be a building inspector who would respond to tenant complaints or inquiries after-hours and on weekends (safety does not take nights and weekends off!) or better yet the city’s designated ‘Building Official’ should receive those tenant calls.
Neighbors in adjacent properties are not notified that construction work will commence. That means neighbors are not provided with the construction schedule or contact information for the landlord. Where properties are separated by as few as 10 feet, major construction (like remodeling) means that noise and dust will migrate. Post a notice or sign on the property to notify neighboring tenants of: dates for construction, permitted hours of work, and the name of the landlord’s representative and emergency contact. Additionally include contact information for the city’s rent stabilization division (as West Hollywood requires).
There is no proactive city inspection of construction workplaces that are regulated by a means & method plan. Once work commences, no inspector’s eyes ensure that the workplace complies with all conditions of the plan. The workplace should be inspected for compliance with the means & method plan after construction begins. Alternately, invite tenants to contact the city’s Building Official directly with any concern that the plan is not being respected.
Requirements to notify tenants about progress after 30 days of construction are roundly ignored. The building code says the landlord must notify tenants twice-monthly about work progress and also hold a monthly meeting to solicit tenant feedback. But there is no city-side mechanism to ensure that the landlord abides by these requirements. Upon 30 days after the permit is issued, the city should contact the landlord’s representative to ask when work commenced. On the 31st day after work commenced the city should require the landlord to immediately notify tenants with a progress report, and continue to notify tenants every two weeks. Within 60 days after work commenced, the landlord must have held a meeting with tenants or the stops work at the site.
There is no tenant education about the means & method plan process. There is only a mention of the process on the rent stabilization division’s ‘forms’ webpage. That is not sufficient: if tenants are unaware of the landlord’s obligations then the city’s complaint-driven enforcement process will fail. Rent stabilization division should apprize all tenants about the means & method plan process and the landlord’s obligations. Feature it more prominently on the website. The means & method plan process generates a relatively high volume of calls to the rent stabilization division. Proactive engagement with tenants will avoid unnecessary friction between tenants, landlords and the city.
Construction work in multifamily areas is often undertaken without a permit. The means no means & method plan is submitted and anticipated impacts are not disclosed to tenants. Obviously no appropriate mitigation measure can be identified if the neighboring tenants are in the dark. We can end landlord impunity by establishing a significant financial penalty when work that would require a means & method plan is undertaken without one – and indeed without even a required permit. Dedicate those funds to tenant education.

Means & Method References