The City of Los Angeles is considering major changes to its zoning laws designed to prohibit sober living and other group homes for the disabled in single-family residential areas. If you operate a sober living home in Los Angeles you need to get involved. In addition to sober lving homes, those affected include students, seniors, friends and roommates, adult children living with their parents, and people who rent homes together for any reason.
Housing Rights vs. City of Los Angeles Proposed Rezoning Ordinance
Homeowners are in danger of being denied the use of their properties in long standing traditional ways, and people who share housing costs in duplexes or single family residences in low density residential zones are in danger of being banned from living there. Those who could be affected by this proposed ordinance are students, seniors, friends and roommates, persons with disabilities—anyone renting homes together with more than one lease agreement. The Los Angeles Planning Commission will consider this proposal again on November 4, 2010. Please check this page for location and time information as we receive it.
Details of the proposed zoning changes are outlined in the September 2010 Planning Department staff report, Case Number CPC-2009-800-CA and Council File Number 07-34-27. (Link to staff report) Following is a breakdown of the City’s proposal in three sections:
- Proposed changes and how they would negatively affect renters and rental properties
- Why this proposed ordinance should be defeated
- What you can do about it
Letter of Opposition
Read our letter of opposition sent to the Planning Commission here.
Proposed changes and how they would negatively affect renters and rental properties in low density residential zones
Currently there is no restriction on the number of leases or rental agreements for single family residences and duplexes in the City of Los Angeles, but that could rapidly change. This ordinance would reclassify as a boarding house any rental property in single family homes or duplexes in low density residential areas (R1, R2 and RD) with more than one leasing arrangement and ban them from those zones. The City proposes to do this by redefining “family,” “single housekeeping unit,” “boarding house,” and “correctional or penal institution.”
“Family” would be redefined as: “One or more persons living together in a dwelling unit with common access to, and common use of all living, kitchen, and eating areas within the dwelling unit, as a single housekeeping unit.” (emphasis ours. See Planning Department Appendix A p. A-2)
“Single housekeeping unit” would be redefined as: “One household where all the members have common access to and common use of all living, kitchen, and eating areas within the dwelling unit, and household activities and responsibilities such as meals, chores, expenses and maintenance of the premises are shared or carried out according to a household plan or other customary method. If all or part of the dwelling unit is rented, the lessees must jointly occupy the unit under a single lease, either written or oral, whether for monetary or non-monetary consideration.” (emphasis ours. See Planning Department Appendix A p. A-2)
“Boarding house” would be redefined as: “A one-family dwelling where lodging is provided to individual with or without meals, for monetary or non-monetary consideration under two or more separate agreements or leases, either written or oral, or a dwelling with five or fewer guest rooms of suites of rooms . . .” (See Planning Department Appendix A pp. A-1, A-5)
“Correctional or Penal Institution” NOTE: this set of provisions has been removed from the current version of the bill, in response to our and other objections to it. would be defined as: “Any building including a prison. jail, or halfway house used for the housing or provision of services to persons under sentence from a federal, state or county court, or otherwise under the supervision of the State of California Department of Corrections or successor agency.” (See Planning Department Appendix A p. A-1. The Planning Department notes in its narrative that any residence meeting this new definition of “Correctional or penal institution” would need to apply for and be granted a Conditional Use Permit in order to operate.)
Just which homes would be impacted is not made clear. Does the City’s definition mean that any home in which a parolee lives, whether as a renter or not, would be reclassified, and therefore need a CUP?
Broadening the scope of this ordinance to include all low density residential homes with shared lease agreements in the City is merely a pretext for the original intent to restrict sober living and other housing for persons with disabilities. Plus, the majority of public dialogue supporting this ordinance continues to focus primarily on sober living homes.
Why This Proposed Ordinance Should Be Defeated
- This proposed ordinance sweeps with too broad a brush and with no justification for doing so. The City has provided no supporting evidence that homes with more than one lease are a greater threat to community health and safety than homes that don’t have such rental agreements. This proposal also assumes the reverse, that homes in which financial burdens of housing are not shared under separate agreements pose no threat to communities, an equally unsound premise.
- The City of Los Angeles already has nuisance abatement laws and enforcement procedures. If homes with more than one lease are truly nuisances then why haven’t they been held accountable through these provisions? Why take such drastic measures without first fully using the tools the City has to deal with these problems?
- By redefining family, this ordinance ignores the case of City of Santa Barbara v. Adamson in which the California Supreme Court ruled, based on privacy laws, that local governments cannot define family differently for non-related persons than related persons. Furthermore, the City is apparently declaring war on its residents who choose to live together through shared rental agreements or who cannot afford to live any other way..
- The City seeks to redefine family not on the functionality of how people relate to each other in the privacy of their households, but solely on how they pay for their housing. This puts an undue burden on those who cannot afford to live alone, particularly in these harsh economic times in which people are being forced to share housing who never have before.
- The City has not specified how the potentially thousands of residences this ordinance will impact will be identified. Since it has provided no methodology, nor described how one will be developed to identify these homes, how can the City ensure that enforcement will be applied uniformly and not focused primarily on sober living?
- The ordinance is discriminatory against housing for persons with disabilities. The more than two and a half year history of this developing ordinance clearly demonstrates its discriminatory intent to restrict group homes for persons with disabilities, eventually narrowing its focus specifically to sober living. (For an explanation of legal protections for housing for persons with disabilities (see Fair Housing FAQ and 3 Legal Protections.) In the trail of public documentation it is clear that the basis for wanting this restriction is based on neighbors’ complaints about sober living. However, the City has offered no justification based on objective evidence that sober living homes overall are more of a threat to community health and safety than any other type of home. In fact, in a January 28, 2010, City Planning Staff Report, explanations were given why the City could not legally restrict sober living homes. (see Jan. 28 2010 staff report, p. 10) Following is an excerpt from that report:
- The more than two and a half year history of this developing ordinance clearly demonstrates its discriminatory intent to restrict group homes for persons with disabilities, specifically focusing on sober living. (For an explanation of legal protections for housing for persons with disabilities see Fair Housing FAQ and 3 Legal Protections.) In the documented trail of public discussion this intent is apparent. However, the City has offered no justification based on objective evidence that sober living homes overall are more of a threat to community health and safety than any other type of home. Furthermore, a January 28, 2010, City Planning Staff Report explains why the City could not legally restrict sober living homes. (See Jan. 28 2010 staff report, p. 10)
Following is an excerpt from that report:
“Staff considered alternative amendments to this definition as a way to regulate sober living homes as unlicensed group residential uses, and found that every alternative definition was fatally flawed. Every alternative considered was illegal, unenforceable, or discriminatory. In particular, some were too broad in their impact, such that several individuals living as roommates would be prohibited. Other definitions, such as ones that require investigation of who uses what rooms or facilities in the household, are unenforceable.”
Even though the City has focused its current version of this ordinance on all low density residential homes with shared lease agreements in the City, it is a pretext for the original intent to restrict where sober living and other group housing for persons with disabilities can be located. Furthermore, the majority of public dialogue on this subject continues to focus on sober living homes, not all homes with shared lease agreements.