Help for Illegal L. A. Conversions, Construction & Real Estate Problems

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garages/guest houses

What Homeowners MUST Know About Illegal Garage Conversions and Guest Houses Built Without Permits

In Southern California, it’s hard to go three blocks without seeing cars parked in front of garages converted into living quarters or offices.  If you look in the backyards, you will often see guest houses.  Unfortunately for property owners who converted or built these units without permits, this can lead to some huge bills if the owners are cited – and that is happening with ever-increasing frequency.

Many homeowners did not do the work or even know unpermitted construction existed until they were cited by their respective Departments of Building & Safety or Public Works.  Once discovered, every homeowner I’ve ever talked to wants to legalize their illegal units, especially when faced with the bill to restore the structure to its original condition (say, as a garage).  Most homeowners seem to think that for $500, a structure can be restored.  Think AGAIN; and try $2,000 to $3,000+, depending on how the illegal structure was configured and what’s in it.

The biggest issue I’ve seen for most homeowners with an unpermitted guest house or garage conversion, is the possibility of losing space they consider part of their home.  This could simply be an office or playroom, or it could be living facilities for relatives.  Often times the homeowner is renting out the space, and they are faced with (1) loss of income, (2) move-out fees to the tenant, fines and penalties to the city the structure is in, and (3) costs to legalize, restore, or demolish the offending unit.
 


In order to try and keep the unpermitted unit, a great deal of “due diligence” must be performed.  Certain laws may or may not apply to protect the homeowner in regard to the existing unpermitted construction and use(s). All zoning, parking, setback, height and lot size requirements must be met. In addition, the property might be subject to special conditions that limit the amount of change that can be legally made.


Do You Have an Unpermitted Guest House or Garage Conversion?

These days, it’s usually cheaper to convert a garage or add a guest house, than it is to try and put an addition on one’s house.  This is especially true in the short run if it’s done covertly – without being built to code and without being legal – securing the permits before construction begins.  However, when done legally, the benefits are varied and significant.  Here are just a few of the uses I am familiar with:
  • Art Studio
  • Game room
  • Guest room
  • Gym
  • Home based business
  • Media room
  • Multipurpose room
  • Music studio
  • Office
  • Playroom
  • Study room for teens
  • Workshop space
From having extra optimized storage space, to providing an office in the home, to being able to accommodate family members and guests, an additional legal unit can have a significant increase in your property value.

The 7 Major Steps to take for Illegal or Unpermitted Garage Conversions/Guest House Additions

Given that 99.9% of the people who visit my website are seeking information on illegal units, I’ll confine my remarks to them.  If you are part of the 0.1% who are taking proactive measures, just give me a call and I’ll be happy to provide you with further information on how to the right way to legally add on to your home.

The starting point of this discussion is to define a Guest House and also a Garage.  For illustration purposes, I’m going to use definitions offered up by the City of Los Angeles Municipal Code:


Guest House: A dwelling containing not more than five guest rooms or suites of rooms, but with no kitchen facilities.

Garage, private: An accessory building or portion of a main building designed or used for parking or storage of motor vehicles of the occupants of a residential use
.
 

The first thing you should note is that a guest house does not allow for a kitchen.  Neither does a garage, at least not without a permit.

With that little background in mind, here are the 7 major steps you need to address if you have an unpermitted Garage Conversion or Guest House.


1.     Verify all the possible legal options you have to legalize your converted or added garage. This will include, but not necessarily be limited to, the building codes, zoning and planning regulations regarding to your property, its legal profile, setbacks, parking, etc.  You’ll also want to do an a thorough analysis and research about the characteristics, potentials and limitations of your property.
2.     Chances are, you’re going to need some type of designs and plans drawn, so go out and interview some architects.  He or she will work with you on the type of conversion you want, based partially on what you have already constructed, and what may be necessary/allowed on your property.

3.     When the first architectural renderings are done, go to the appropriate department(s) for your city planners to show them your initial sketches so you can have necessary feedback about your intended legal conversion, as well as any changes or corrections required.

4.     If and when the initial plans are approved by your City, make yourself an estimate or ask a contractor for estimates for the construction.

5.     After deciding which way to go and to take the necessary action steps and precautions, follow all the legal steps and procedures from your City and County to get the garage conversion/ guest house plans approved. The time length of this whole process varies greatly from city to city (and county) and will involve repeated visits to the city planners in order to submit the architectural plans and get all the clearances from the different departments necessary for the final approval.

6.     After the plans are approved and you get the requisite building permit(s) for the conversion, you’re ready to do or have any further construction work performed.  Please note that the city gives you a definite time frame to start the work, otherwise a new approval process and permit may be necessary.

7.     In addition, once cited for illegal construction, all Southern California cities pose firm deadlines for completion on the work, before some heavy-duty fines and penalties kick in.

I have relied on Andy Baker for legal advice, mostly on real estate matters. He returns phone calls promptly, which can’t be said about very many lawyers!   I have referred friends to Andy who have also been very happy with his services. I highly recommend him.

- Lynn B. Feldman, Attorney and Law Professor, Los Angeles, CA

Before doing the conversion, be wary of many possible pitfalls, including, but not limited to legal, technical, economical and aesthetic problems, both potential and actual. No matter how proficient you are, it’s always a good idea to ask for consultation and help in any, and preferably all of these fields if you feel you may not be able to accomplish a specific required task in the process of a garage conversion / guest house addition. By doing that, you may invest some extra money upfront, but this investment will pay off in spades, by less stress, less aggravation, faster processing, and with the satisfaction of having the work done right the first time.  

Construction prices and estimates for conversion
If you don’t know the price of a garage conversion / guest house addition, it  can be somewhat challenging. Prices vary from city to city and suburb to suburb - from hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the case. It will depend on a lot of factors: the intended use, the quality of finishing and details, who is going to do the service (contractor, handyman, or “do-it-yourself” homeowner), local legal taxes and fees, etc.

If you decide to outsource the services, this kind of job is often better to be done by a licensed contractor, rather than a handyman, due to many technical, warranty and legal aspects.
In regard to the evaluation and estimates for garage conversions and guest house additions, I suggest the homeowner seek 3 bids from reputable contractors familiar with this specific type of construction.  Ask them for a detailed and itemized list of all construction items and work, with a breakdown of time and material expenses related to the job. This way the costs of the job can become more transparent and you can also compare prices/services in order to shop for a better choice.

It’s a LEGAL Issue
Don’t forget that in addition to the steps that it takes to get the permits (if they can be gotten) to legalize your illegal structure(s), you’ve still got to deal with your city or county if you have received an Order/Notice to Comply.  So first and foremost remember – it’s a legal issue you’re dealing with, and if not addressed in a timely manner, the effects can be disastrous:
  • Fines and penalties of over $1,000
  • Criminal charges brought
  • JAIL time
That’s right – the prospect of jail may loom in your future.  It WILL loom is you don’t properly and timely respond to the city demands.  This is no joke, folks. 

Here’s what you need to be concerned with from a legal perspective:

Building Codes & Permits
It’s important, if not crucial to know beforehand, all the “nuts and bolts” of the legal building process to make the garage conversion / guest house legalization process conform to your city’s local legal requirements. Even thorough research may not be enough to avert significant financial loss to the homeowner. If, for example your city won’t accept the new conversion and there is no other alternative option to comply with the law, you may be forced to reconvert your illegal unit back to its the original condition, and thousands of dollars may be lost because of lack of precaution and information.

Take a garage conversion for instance; to convert a garage into any habitable space - like a bedroom, kitchen, den, office, etc., it is not legally possible without first looking into your city’s current local building codes, planning and zoning regulations that may apply to the property. A garage structure is not an approved occupied space for people; it’s a required space for vehicles to park.  It is designed for covered vehicle parking thus covered parking must be legally maintained.

Once the use of the garage changes to a habitable space, it is considered as a new “conditioned space”, required to comply with specific technical and legal standards that were not previously required. Most building codes require permits to “construct, enlarge, alter, repair, change the occupancy,” and also to “install any electrical or plumbing system.”

In terms of Building Code regulations, cities are concerned that the homeowner complies with some basic building code standards, such as structural integrity, ingress and egress, fire, electric, plumbing, air circulation, ventilation, insulation, lightning, heating and cooling, seismic compliance, etc.

Zoning

In regard to zoning and planning, cities generally require the homeowners to have or maintain required side, back, and front-yards (setbacks) from property lines; number of required parking spaces; possibility to park on the street and/or to relocate the parking spots under a new carport or in a garage inside the property limits, use of the new space and any impact on the neighborhood and community.

Basically, before doing any significant design and construction work, the homeowner needs to make a thorough analysis and research into his/her city’s current zoning, planning and building code regulations, requirements and restrictions. This can be a very arduous and time consuming task, and sometimes due to a lack of knowledge about the subject, homeowners may get confusing or misleading information, as well as not being totally aware about the real opportunities and alternative venues to make the intended work feasible and legally approved.

Parking
In most cases, besides complying with all the basic legal requirements, a garage conversion may only be accepted as long as the homeowner provides on the property an alternative parking space for the car(s) removed from the original garage. Adding a new garage or carport could do this, and usually it requires another type of permit.

Also, doing a garage conversion often involves the need to build or buy an external storage shed(s) in order to remove some items from the garage. The addition of storage shed(s) in the property usually may also require a specific kind of permit.

Complying with an Order/Notice to Comply
Don’t forget that while you’re trying to legalize your property, the clock is ticking.  For more information on how to deal with an Order/Notice to Comply, please go to my Home Page.


After reading this, if you feel you need or want more help or expertise, please call me for your FREE telephone consultation where I will personally:
  •     Go over your facts, ask you questions, and review the papers you bring with you
  •     Explain your legal rights and your obligations
  •     Answer all of your questions
  •     Discuss my services with you
  •     Provide you with information to empower you
  •     And much, much more
Your conversation with me will last about 25 minutes, depending on the complexity of your case.  It can save thousands of dollars, plus substantial time and aggravation. It’s at least a $160.00 value, yet the consultation is 100% free, without obligation

After that, both you and I will know how to best tackle your problem.  I have several cost-effective ways to proceed, so that you get your problem addressed in a timely fashion and at a reasonable price.


To set up your free Consultation

or to ask me any of your questions

simply call me (Andy) at 818-620-6023

or email me at

andy@andybakerlaw.com

I look forward to talking with you soon.


Andy Baker
22287 Mulholland Hwy, No. 131
Calabasas, CA 91302
Tel. (818) 620-6023

andy@andybakerlaw.com


I help people arrange successful transactions, avoid costly consequences and resolve legal disputes.


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