West Hollywood divided over who should pay for retrofit upgrades

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (KABC) -- Throughout West Hollywood, there are 821 rent-controlled apartment buildings that could suffer major damage or collapse if a big earthquake hits.

The city has a retrofit ordinance, and by law the work has to be done. The city is trying to come up with a plan to determine who should pay to retrofit those apartments.

Residents are concerned about rent increases, but landlords say they shouldn't have to foot the bill for the retrofitting costs.

"At the end of it, the landlords' building is going to be worth more to them, but we're helping to pay for it, and I totally get why it's necessary, but we're not getting any benefit," said renter R.J. DiCamillo. "We don't get any guarantee that that building is going to be there in five years."

DiCamillo, other renters and landlords met with housing officials to go over the options and ideas to present to the city council on Wednesday.

Residents are concerned about rent increases in a city where the average rent-controlled one bedroom is $1,800, but landlords say they shouldn't have to foot the whole bill for the retrofitting costs.

One idea is a pass-through, a capped amount for a certain amount of time, like what Los Angeles established of $38 per month for 10 years.

Benjamin Schwartz owns four buildings built by his grandfather. He said retrofitting costs would be at least $400,000.

"Not every landlord is some wealthy, money-grubbing, terrible person," Schwartz said. "Some of them are just business people who are trying to make a living. They are doing their work the best they can."

Thousands of low-income residents may not be able to afford any cost sharing options, an issue city officials are taking into consideration.

"With a pass-through there is a potential for us to develop our hardship exemption for those extremely low-income, fixed-income, vulnerable households," said Pete Noonan, West Hollywood Housing Manager.

The city will be holding another meeting Monday at Plummer Park for residents and landlords who were not able to attend the Wednesday meeting to discuss how to pay for safety upgrades.

For a list of buildings that are affected, visit the city's website.
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