The LAHD is Applying a More Stringent Standard to Residential Hotels

In Los Angeles, at the end of World War II the city’s leaders expected a huge population boom. As a result of these expectations; the city decided to increase the allowable unit density of land. This ultimately led to the rezoning of a substantial portion of the city to R-4. This allows for one dwelling unit for every 400 square feet of lot area. In other words, R-4 is a relatively high intensity residential zoning category. After the zone change, real estate developers proceeded to build units. Among the types of units that were built were so called hotel guestrooms. Guestrooms were an attractive unit type for developers because the code allowed for even greater density of units per lot area and less stringent parking requirements. Guestrooms differ from an apartment or dwelling unit in that the occupants of a guestroom are expected to be of a transient nature, whereas, the occupants of an apartment are expected to use the unit on a longer term basis. This has implications for the program of the unit, in that where an apartment must have a kitchen; a standard guestroom is forbidden by law to have a kitchen. This would eventually pose a problem for owners, tenants and regulators of hotel guestrooms.

Due to Los Angeles’ steady population growth over the last six decades; the actual use of hotel guestrooms slowly morphed from short to long term. In effect the units were being used more like apartments and less like guestrooms. This transformation manifested itself in two ways; the first being that these units were being rented on a long term basis, and the second being that provisions were made for cooking, which means that stoves were added within the units. Over the past few decades, The Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety and the Los Angeles Housing Department have turned a blind eye to their unapproved use, because they were aware that these units play a vital role in accommodating some of the city’s most marginalized citizens. Their knowledge of this is evidenced by the creation of the Residential Hotel Unit Conversion and Demolition Ordinance, which was passed by the Los Angeles City Council in 2008. This ordinance inhibits the demolition or conversion of buildings that the city has determined to be a residential hotel.

The shift from short to long term use of these buildings creates regulatory problems in that; long term use requires cooking, and cooking is restricted in guestrooms. In many cases the LAHD has conducted multiple inspections of residential hotels as part of their Systematic Code Enforcement Program, and has been charging the residential hotel owners for, and providing them with registration of rental units. Yet, recently in spite of their previous inspections and implicit acceptance of these units; the LAHD has decided to enforce the unapproved use. The LAHD is issuing “orders to comply” to owners of residential hotels with guestrooms that have stoves. The “order to comply” compels the building owner to do one of the following: either remove the stove, or attain a change of use from the LADBS. This poses challenges to building owners and architects in that since the building is technically a hotel the plan checker at LADBS is likely to treat the building as a public accommodation, which means that they would hold the building to a higher accessibility standard than a typical apartment building. I recently dealt with an issue where the owner of a hotel with 12 guestrooms was issued an “order to comply” by the LAHD. They were cited for unapproved use because the units had stoves. I attained a change of use from LADBS and the owner was able to keep stoves in all units.