The Long Beach Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program: A New Way to Legalize an Unpermitted Illegal Apartment Unit

If you own an apartment building with an unpermitted or illegal unit in Long Beach, you might be asking yourself: “how can I legalize an unpermitted unit?” or “will I be penalized for having an illegal rental unit?” or “how do I bring my illegal housing units up to code?” The good news is that the City of Long Beach has created the Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program, allowing apartment owners to legalize an unpermitted illegal unit without facing backlash or fines.

The Goals of the Long Beach Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program:

  • Increase the overall housing quality and safety of Long Beach apartment buildings by bringing unpermitted illegal apartment units up to current safety standards through the legalization process.
  • Help the City of Long Beach meet its 26,000-unit Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA).
  • Provide additional housing options to apartment owners and tenants in Long Beach, CA.
  • Grow the City’s tax base.

The Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program

In an effort to increase Long Beach’s affordable housing, Long Beach has recently implemented the Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program. This program, useful for any units not covered under that Multifamily ADU process, will legalize units and bring the unit up to health and safety standards.

It’s unclear how many illegal units exist in the City or how many landlords will come forward to take advantage of the amnesty program, but staff from the City of Long Beach said they have been alerted to about 157 cases of housing permit issues within the past eight months. Typically, where those cases would end with the housing units being removed to bring the original building back into compliance, Deputy Director of the City’s Development Services department, Chris Koontz, says, “One of the benefits of this ordinance is that this gives us a relief valve. It gives owners a way to legalize the unit that doesn’t exist today.”

To help incentivize property owners to participate, density restrictions, parking requirements, and other planning standards unrelated to health and safety concerns would be waived.

Previously, where the legalization of unpermitted units required approval by the zoning administrator at a public hearing and was limited to units created prior to 1964, the newly implemented program allows for approval through a ministerial site plan review committee. This only requires the applicant to appeal to the Planning Committee, and finally a Building Bureau special inspection.

Long Beach Amnesty Program Eligibility:

To be eligible for this program, your unit needs to have been occupied, as a residence, for more than thirty (30) continuous days prior to December 31, 2016.

Long Beach Amnesty Program Requirements:

Owners must agree to rent the unit at an affordable level for low or moderate-income tenants for at least 10 years. If a current tenant earns more than a moderate income (which would be about $125,000 for a family of four) the 10-year affordability covenant would begin after the current tenant leaves.

The Process of Legalizing an Unpermitted Illegal Unit:

Interested property owners need to work with a third-party contractor, architect, or engineer to assess what work must be done in the unit to bring it into compliance before approaching the City of Long Beach. This model, City staff said, could help attract owners who may otherwise be wary of bringing an unpermitted unit to the City’s attention without knowing how much it would cost them to legalize it.

I think this program is a good, meaningful approach to try to take a problem and turn it into an opportunity,” Vice Mayor Rex Richardson said, “These units are already built-out, occupied, and they’re substandard. They’re not safe. So this is not amnesty from health and building code. This actually brings these units out of the shadows and makes them safe.”

Contact us to learn more about the Long Beach Informal Dwelling Unit Amnesty Program and how it can increase the value of your property.


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