13,500 Apartment Buildings in Los Angeles County Require Retrofitting
Los Angeles is known for its urban sprawl and is now home to over ten million residents. The county developed rapidly after World War II and multifamily properties quickly began replacing traditional craftsman homes and bungalows.
“Dingbat” apartment buildings were born in the 1950s and feature flimsy first floors that often serve as parking spaces, a popular design during the height of LA’s car culture. These “soft-story” apartment buildings can be found all over Los Angeles county with their names whimsically written in specialized fonts and geometric embellishments on the front façade.
While these boxy mid-century buildings have become a beloved icon of Los Angeles architecture, many feature shoddy construction and experts fear they are at risk of collapse in an imminent earthquake.
County officials have enacted a new law requiring the retrofitting of wood-frame apartment buildings to better withstand a major earthquake. More than 13,000 of these apartment buildings have been cited as needing seismic strengthening which can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $130,000. With the intention of public safety, the city has released the addresses of all buildings requiring retrofitting, you can check if your own address is on the list, courtesy of the LA Times.
Some property owner groups have opposed the release of this data and fear owners will not be able to carry the burden of costly upgrades. County officials have been proactive at addressing owner’s concerns, hosting forums to explain the ordinance, opening a special retrofit office dedicated to the handling of construction permits, and recommending engineering companies that have been vetted by the city.
City inspectors spent about 2 years developing the list, sifting through thousands of city records and walking block-to-block to identify these structures. Owners of each building have received a courtesy notice, and several have already begun the retrofitting process.
Beginning in May, the official order to comply will be mailed out in phases. Owners of the largest apartment buildings, with 16 units or more, will receive the first wave of orders. The next wave will include soft-story buildings with 3 or more floors, followed by the remaining buildings on the list.
Owners have 2 years from the date they receive the compliance order to either submit proof of structural viability, or plans for retrofit or demolition. Permits for any construction or demolition must be made within 3.5 years of receiving the order. The entire retrofit project must be completed within seven years of receiving the order.
The question of how to funds these improvements remains a major concern. The LA City Council unanimously voted for a motion allowing owners to pass half the retrofit costs (as well as any interest paid on loans to fund the retrofit) to tenants through rent increases over a 10-year period, with a maximum increase of $38 per month.
Currently, Dingbat apartments that have been kept up or renovated are about on par with regular apartment rents. A one-bedroom in Santa Monica or West LA will run about $1950 and $1850 respectively. Some neighborhoods have more than others, but you can find them just about anywhere from Venice to Los Feliz – for now at least. Many are being demolished to give rise to multi-story complexes, and some may just be too unstable to keep.
“Those dingbats are so poignant. So beautiful and heartbreaking. Little temporary homes for the underclass like tenements with fanciful aspirational names extravagantly drawn on the front like hotels. They break my heart, those buildings.”
Vivian Abramowitz (Natasha Lyonne), Slums of Beverly Hills