This is a story about an old house, a Haunted House, haunted by inept city departments and sneaky flippers. Beware, Los Angeles, for developers are amongst you. I had to dig deep into the murky clay of Building and Safety to find what developers and flippers can get away with in Los Angeles. Turns out, a lot!
Built in 1926, 2980 Waverly Drive was sold last February, and sold again, by John Aaroe Group, this September 2013, for twice the price. The 6 months in between was hell.
How Re-Inhabit made the sausage.
Zillow describes the house as:
This 3 bed, 2.5 bath Tudor-style home in Silver Lake has a deep setback from the street and large, professionally landscaped yard. Nearly 2000 sq ft of living space form an ideal layout. .. There are vistas everywhere and tons of natural light.
New flipper house from Re-Inhabit, who claims, “We did what we wanted, and LA city building codes can GTH!” The rehabbers claim the walls , including the Bastard Wall, and the new Scary Driveway on the front lawn are standout elements to interest homeowners everywhere.
Okay, the last paragraph is my own. But I bet they thought about writing it.
I was in the house a couple of times in February. The floor plans were odd, and not quite comfortable, in my opinion, especially upstairs. But some of the rooms were fun, and I liked the old tile in the bathrooms and the curved ceilings. I don’t know what changes and remodeling the flippers did inside. This is about what they did on the outside, to affect the neighbors and the entire community.
Clear-cutting decades old trees, hours, noise
Builders in LA should learn from location scouts for films: talk to your neighbors, ask for understanding, keep to legal hours, and give the neighbors money or fruit baskets to leave a good taste in their mouth.-This didn’t happen here. Re-Inhabit started off by clearcutting the very long lot, with probably 40 trees felled. True, I would agree that the lot was a teeny bit overgrown from the previous owner. But a microforest in Los Angeles is something to respect, no? Waverly is only a mile or so from Griffith Park, and coyotes, skunks, opossums, Great Horned Owls, numerous songbirds, etc, live in these neighborhoods. Waverly also has the only reptiles I’ve ever seen in a major city, including many lizards, who lose habitat every day.
Was Think Green too avant-garde for them?It took a week, but they successfully got rid of almost all vegetarian and interesting landscaping for the house. They used the bare dirt area to store all their trash and garbage for several months, and a week before the house was listed for sale they put in…grass. Always a good idea in a city with no water! /sarcasm
When I realized the loud, dirty, street-blocking construction was going to be there for the long haul, I started to keep track of things, and the first thing I reported was the illegal hours. (41.40 LAMC- Construction Noise Hours) They were starting work too early (unlicensed workers nattering under your window? No! Nor is moving any construction equipment okay before this hour!) and also working Sundays.
Then there was the street itself that they hijacked…
Should a flipper or developer have eminent domain over your street? Is Silver Lake chopped liver?
You have a legal right to peace and quiet, and house remodellers are, basically, a nuisance.
When construction crews step off of private property and into public areas, pay close attention. They will attempt to intimidate, with grinding, sawing, destruction noise and generators that shake your walls. Have you gotten to know concrete trucks up close and personal? You will want to ward them off with crosses or garlic or steel fences. Construction guys will also take up all the street parking spaces. Or try to. But you have rights.
Re-inhabit did this on the Waverly house. There are 3 apartment buildings within a few yards of this house, with hundreds of people affected by their selfish actions. Every day, construction trucks. or personal cars, or trash dump trucks, took up every space on both sides of the block – and were double parked for most of the day. Oh, and the nights, too. They illegally “claimed” all the parking spaces for the next day by setting out cones and trash bins overnight, as well as horrific trash trucks with garbage spewing over the back tailgate.
They also made a deal with the house next door, 1974 Waverly, to use their parkway to dump a huge pile of dirt to mark it, like a dog, in between carcasses of their vehicles and equipment.
This is all illegal stuff. Sargent Poma at the Dept of Transportation told me that if any construction crews are going to take over street parking like this for any extended amount of time, they have to pay for a permit. This makes perfect sense: it’s a private company using public resources. Film crews pay city permits every day when they take over streets.
In addition, Street Services investigated complaints about the parkway (The area between the street and private property. Waverly doesn’t have sidewalks, so it’s just a kind of paved/pebbled area flush with the street.) It’s illegal to claim parking spaces with cones or trash cans, and construction equipment can’t be left out hanging all over the road or parkway — it must be hitched to a truck or car. And no double parking all afternoon!
Most egregious of all was the Bastard Wall, built against code, without a permit, or Building & Safety inspection. And because it extended into the parkway, it stole city property as it added land value to the house. Scary Driveway was also built without inspection or permits…and implicit danger. Scream and Scream Again!
How Re-Inhabit Tricked Building and Safety and the City of LA
We know a little bit about how flippers think from the interview CurbedLA did with Re-Inhabit just 6 months ago:
Got any tips for dealing with the Department of Building and Safety?
John: Instead of going to the department’s main office Downtown, I recommend going to their office in Van Nuys or another location. And bring Wite-out: if there’s something on your permit that the inspector doesn’t like and it’s not crucial, you can just white it out, and then they’ll be like, “Oh. Okay.”
Rudy: Be honest with the inspectors, or you’ll end up paying for it down the road–but don’t talk any more than you need to.
Or, don’t be honest, and forget to mention some of your naughty projects, even after they’re done, and it’s too late to inspect anything! Retroactive permits are pretty popular amongst the developers set!
The Bastard Wall
The original wall, made of weathered brick, about 2′ high, probably dates from the year the house was built in 1926. The new wall goes all around the property, and is over 6′ tall on the sides, and 56″in front. According to B&S code, walls need a permit if they are over 42″. But no permit issued, so, oops! No one wants to claim this wall!
It’s worse than breaking city code, however: on the street side, the new wall is built further out than the old one, further out than any house on the street. It’s actually grabbing public parkway for the personal use of the flippers and home owner, and stealing it from the public good. There’s only room for a skinny car now, and joggers, or the tots and moms walking to Ivanhoe Elementary are out of luck. Walk in the middle of the street, we don’t care!
The Scary Driveway
Zillow describes the parking as Unknown. That’s peculiar! Oh, well, perhaps they didn’t want to mention the private driveway, 2 lots long in the back, which could park 6 or 7 cars in a line, or 4 cars with a garage. That’s a pretty cool feature, but Re-Inhabit decided it would improve local property values if the new owners were also allowed to park…on their front lawn.
Perhaps it’s a hipster homage to trailer trash lawns? It’s not wide enough to meet DOT’s specs for a driveway (18′), there’s no permit from B&S, nor was it approved by Street Use. It’s unclear if it has an apron or an approach, both of which Street Use in Street Services say are necessary for a legal driveway. It’s surrounded by a wood fence and trees and foliage, making it dangerous for both drivers on the lawn and street traffic. It’s totally blind.
I was driving down the street and all of a sudden backup lights appeared coming towards me from 2 yards away. Yup, it was them, backing out of a black lawn. My heart was racing. Doesn’t this make you shiver?
Run, run fast, my darling!
Where was the city while codes were ignored and violations were taking place, and public land was being appropriated by a private investor, like a modern land-grabbing baron?
I guess they got scared.
There are many city departments involved in building anything, and I called all of them, multiple times. Building and Safety, of course, Dept of Transportation, Parking enforcement, Street Services, LAPD, Public Works, Bureau of Engineering, etc. All were involved, few cared to correct the problems.
In addition, LADWP is very much involved. Both the wall and the driveway were actually built on “borrowed” land. Because of the high-voltage wires and towers that Waverly is famous for, LADWP owns all the land circling them, for several yards. Both structures are encroaching on LADWP property…and the builders never applied for an encroachment request!
I also discovered that Waverly Drive itself has an easement of 30 feet, meaning Public Works can plow right over the wall and anything else in the way, should they choose to enlarge this narrow street.
City planning isn’t rocket science. Any contractor, architect or engineer examining the documents and maps would see this info…if they choose to.
Then there was Ms. Bowie in Street Services. When I informed her that one of her inspectors was rude to me, she said “You shouldn’t have told him that he gets pensions and health benefits from the city – it’s demeaning.” And she added, “You should learn from your colleagues on how to speak to people in government.” :)
Yet, with all these city departments, armed and ready to assist citizens…there seems to be very little enforcement. And the main office everyone pointed to — and there was a lot of pointing going on — was B&S.
“I know where you live”
Remember that horror movie, “I Know What You Did Last Summer”? One of the chief inspectors at B&S wrote that to me in an email. More precisely:
“I imagine you have a good view from your place across the street.”
B&S claims total anonymity to all complaints. I used a fake first and last name for all reports – no one wants to tangle with men in overalls wielding buzzsaws and 2 ton trucks, am I right? I gave no address at all, nothing.
My first complaints were to Bob Steinbach, Chief of the Inspection Bureau of B&S. He suggested I talk to, and then email, another senior inspector, and we exchanged a couple of dozen emails about the ongoing problems at 1980 Waverly. (This is how you get “handled” by Building and Safety.)
All inspectors at B&S are hard to find – their office hours are usually about half an hour long, at 6:00 AM. (apparently they don’t have email or cell phones for the rest of the day.) And although all building permits are public, if you know where to look, and they are supposed to list all complaints, they don’t. Someone complained before I did, but they never added all of mine. In any case, I was glad to have this one contact (who shall remain anonymous).
However, early on he told me that they had investigated the wall height, and it was under 42″, so didn’t need a permit. A couple of weeks later I decided I would measure it myself, and it was 56″ to 6′ in parts. The inspector immediately changed course, and replied that the height didn’t matter now, and there was some other secret building code that made it all okay in the end!
And then he added the words above. I immediately called Councilman LaBonge and Mayor Garcetti’s office to say I was afraid I was being stalked. I also told him the same. He apologized profusely, and I chose not to pursue the matter, but a neighbor told me that he also complained, was assured that he would be anonymous, and the contractor at 1980 Waverly came over and knocked on his door! Does B&S follow best practices of the NSA?
Here’s what B&S hands out like candy: retroactive permits. I tried many times to get an exact number of how many are issued each year, with no numbers…yet. Mr. Steinbach told me “very few”. Hmmm.
Retroactive permits = No Accountability. And safety is up for grabs. Obviously, it’s not just this re-developer taking advantage of the city. But if the city always sides with developers, who will stand with you and me? Eeeek!
I was informed that there is another property, 2925 Waverly, owned by Sam Trude, of the Southerly Group, which is trying to raze a house and squish 6 condos on the lot now.
Maybe I should go over and introduce myself.