Arch. Myriam B. Mahiques Curriculum Vitae

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Thoughts about "Hoarders"

Many years ago, one of my posts was about people with compulsive behavior keeping lots of staff inside and around their homes. I'm not a psychologist and I saw this from the point of view of a morphologist, just the occupation of the architectural space.
We had a client, back in 2012, owner of an important house, who used to fill up the rooms with vintage objects, up to the ceiling. She had some illegal constructions and upon comparison with the inspector's pictures, we discovered the owner was relocating stuff and even windows and doors. 
I was surprised, being this my first experience with hoarders. I offered her to buy a nice vintage jar, and she reluctantly sold it to me while warning me "be careful, that's the way you begin to pick up". 
She made the effort to have her legalization plans prepared soon, but she decided not to submit them. After a few meetings with the City inspector, the planner and the City attorney, and due to the inaction on her side, she was arrested and put in jail. Until her brother came back from Europe and got everything done: plans got approved, a contractor was hired to fix the house, which was deeply cleaned, and she was sent to hospital. I don't know what happened then, but I promised the brother to keep the original plans of the house.
Now, trashing old plans I had in a closet, I couldn't get rid of this house blue prints (they are genuinely blue), out of respect for my compromise.

Back in 2018, we had another experience, more serious this time, and the contractor taught me the word: "hoarder". He cleaned part of the house to allow us to take the overall dimensions.
All the time I was wondering how they could live in these conditions where all type of objects, clothes, toys, food etc etc was piled up everywhere.
The lady homeowner had psychological problems, but the husband, after many years of living under the circumstances, seemed to be submissive and in full acceptance of the unhealthy environment.
The son, had a separate clean room and bathroom for himself, like a bubble in a sea of trash.
In my experience, the family accepts the situation and everyone tries to create an independent personal space in the house. This is the best thing they could do.

There's currently a series on Netflix called "Hoarders" which captured my full attention. Not that I like the style of "Big Brother" show, I would have preferred a documentary instead of a sort of short performed novels about the disease.
What is stated is that 19M people in the USA suffer from hoarding disorders. And they are showing some extreme examples.
It seems to be a common factor, which is the lack of interest of the son/daughter in a long period of years. They go away from home, being incapable of dealing with their parent/s disorder and when they come back (they are brought back in the "show") they are repentant they have not seen or realized what was going on inside the house in question. Or with the person in question.

It feels weird to me that a son or daughter does not know how the parent is living this way for so long years, but not all families are the same.
Grievances and tears are abundant and worst of all -in my opinion- is the participation of a licensed psychologist who admonishes the hoarder, in the effort of making him/her realize of his/her bad doings, and what is more, she gives a public diagnostic of the psychological health of the hoarder. 
Which doctor would publicly state the patient's diagnostic openly to the world???? "It's a mental illness!" That is stunning, at least in my mind. And of course I am not criticizing her experience and wish to help, it's just I would have preferred more privacy for the addicted.
Of course, she appears to be a counselor and they are not her patients. And I'm assuming the family is being paid to show all the procedures for the extreme cleaning up in a very short period of time, let's say three days, before Code Enforcement shows up. And this is never enough.

An interesting "legality," is that the cleaners must not take the junk away unless the owner gives them permission. Which is very difficult because what is junk for some, is precious to others. If the hoarder does not allow the removal of objects/ trash, then it could be considered a robbery.

A case that has made me sad, so far, is Patricia's, a lady from Indiana, whose house is deeply full of trash accumulated along 30 years, infected by rats, dogs and human feces, the house is collapsing due to the extra vertical loads and all its component materials are biohazardous given the feces and rotten organics have been absorbed by walls, flooring, foundation. The house is unsafe and worth demolition, but at the end we learn Patricia comes back and her son in law (or so relative) is making some improvements in the house to leave it "somehow" habitable. Because that's the main point, is the hoarder able to live back in the house? Is he /she able to get his/her pets back?
Can he or she be treated or is it a sort of dementia? And it is clear that the whole close family needs therapy.

Coming back to Code Enforcement, they shouldn't let the hoarding reach such a critical point because setting aside the decrease of the property(ies) value, it's absolutely unsafe and contaminating. It seems to me they do not notify the family, but just the homeowner, who cannot understand what is wrong.
In the cases I personally know, not a single social worker was sent to the property. It was all related to the building, to the construction. I see it as a weak point.

All pictures are screen shots from the "Hoarders" show on Netflix.
On episode 5, another doctor is presented: psychiatrist Melva Green, who has shown a lot of support and compassion. And she helps the hoarders (two of them) to get to the root of their problem which -apparently- is a consequence of their poverty in childhood. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Abriendo un nuevo negocio. ¿Qué se necesita para un Tenant Improvement (TI)?

Un espacio vacante con cañerías y conexiones expuestas. Las banquinas de concreto deben ser demolidas. Archivos personales.

Este post lo escribo fundamentalmente para la gente que desea rentar su primer local comercial para comenzar un negocio en California. La mayor parte de las veces, ellos visitan el lugar, si les gusta, lo aceptan, sin investigar lo que los departamentos en las Ciudades (y eventualmente Health Department) van a requerir.
El caso más rápido, es pasar desde un cierto uso al mismo uso (o similar), sin otros cambios más que pintura, decoración. Para abrir un negocio, la Ciudad le pedirá que aplique para una licencia (Business license). Digamos, como ejemplo, pasar de oficinas a otras oficinas administrativas, es un paso simple, un plano (floor plan) podría ser requerido si la Ciudad no tiene records de la propiedad.
Un escenario completamente distinto sería pasar de oficinas administrativas a centro médico, para comenzar, la ocupación de personas sería mucho más alta.

El primer paso para el inquilino, y antes de firmar el contrato, es ir al departamento de Planning y preguntar si el nuevo uso es permitido. Segundo, cuántos parkings serán requeridos, según tal uso, y verificar de cuántos estacionamientos se dispone, si son asignados o generales. Tenga en cuenta que aplicar para un variance sobre parkings es un proceso que lleva mucho tiempo, durante el cual, la renta debe ser pagada, y lo más probable es que el resultado sea negativo.
El broker o agente inmobiliario (de haber uno), no siempre cuenta con esta información, y hasta podría ocultar las restricciones para lograr cerrar la operación.
Supongamos que el uso está permitido y la cantidad de estacionamientos está bien. Luego, la accesibilidad para personas discapacitadas es muy importante. Su nuevo negocio debe ser totalmente accesible, aún para los empleados. De lo contrario, es discriminación.
Por supuesto existe la cláusula de ¨grandfather¨ que protege la construcción existente: las que fueron aprobadas bajo permisos antiguos y mientras que no se haga una remodelación o ampliación, tales construcciones pueden ser mantenidas como están.

El piso de concreto necesita reparaciones, la estructura de las paredes y techo están aún expuestas. Archivos personales.

Pero si hay una remodelación o ampliación, todo debe cumplir con los códigos corrientes. Un porcentaje de la inversión debe ser destinada a las mejoras de accesibilidad. Un presupuesto de obra (que incluye mobiliario y terminaciones) debe ser presentado si se disiente con la valuación que establece Building and Safety. Si las mejoras son muy importantes, y/o no hay una forma técnica de realizarlas, una forma de ¨hardship¨ puede ser presentada a Building and Safety para su evaluación.

¿Cómo  se muestran las nuevas mejoras de accesibilidad (ADA)? A través de planos de arquitectura necesarios para el ¨Tenant Improvement¨, como parte de un paquete que puede ser completado con planos y cálculos mecánicos, de electricidad, plomería y eventualmente estructura, dependiendo del tipo de trabajos y del negocio.
Nosotros comúnmente comenzamos mostrando los caminos de egreso con los signos de ¨exit¨ (salida), remodelación de baños accesibles (lo que se requiera para cumplir con el código actual) y mostradores con las alturas correspondientes. Pero si el monto de esta inversión requerido para ADA no es suficiente, continuamos con mejoras en los estacionamientos, lo que se relaciona con rampas exteriores, veredas, carteles, caminos, etc. Esto significa más dinero de obra que lo que el inquilino había imaginado.
¿Tiene el inquilino la obligación de proveer todo esto, en el peor de los casos?. Si, pero sólo hasta el monto establecido para mejoras de ADA. Si los trabajos afectan el exterior, generalmente el inquilino tiene un arreglo con el landlord para que se ocupe de pagar las mejoras exteriores. Cuando el caso es difícil de solucionar, la Ciudad suele mandar un inspector de ADA para hallar una solución razonable. En mi experiencia, esta situación sólo la he visto en shopping malls antiguos.

Equipos de aire acondicionados viejos, sobre plataformas precarias. Habrá que testear si las unidades funcionan aún. Súbase al techo para ver de qué equipamiento dispone. Archivos personales.

Volviendo a los planos para un TI, un error habitual es creer que sólo un plano se requiere. Ésto sería así si la remodelación es menor, en tal caso lo mínimo son dos planos, un site plan (plano del sitio) con los estacionamientos, más el floor plan con detalles de ADA. Para trabajos más importantes, se necesitan planos completos de arquitectura, mecánicos, eléctricos, plomería y tal vez estructurales. Si el negocio es relacionado con comida, recuerde que el departamento de salud (Health Department) toma 21 días hábiles para dar los comentarios del plan check. El inquilino debiera negociar con el landlord cuántos meses de gracia (sin pago) le serán dados para permitir que los ingenieros y arquitectos preparen los planos y cálculos. Este período de gracia suele variar entre dos y tres meses.

Aquí, aunque los baños tienen una buena medida, no hay barras de ADA. Deberán ser agregadas según el código. Archivos personales.

Nosotros recomendamos altamente para los nuevos inquilinos con poca experiencia en el proceso, que consulten a un arquitecto o diseñador experto antes de firmar el contrato si hay cambio de uso.
Algunos cambios de uso especiales pueden llevar Planning Commission y ésto se traduce a un par de meses de demora. Podría ser un mes pero se supone pedirán alguna corrección y las fechas de reuniones son una vez por mes.
¿Qué debiera el inquilino tener en cuenta?
Primero, si la licencia del negocio está aún activa. Luego de seis meses de ser revocada, o si el lugar ha estado cerrado, los derechos de ¨grandfather¨ expiran. En consecuencia, todo debe ajustarse a los códigos corrientes de Zoning y Building.
Por ejemplo, si Ud desea abrir un restaurant que ha estado cerrado por seis meses, nuevos planos deberán ser presentados para todo el local.

En este nuevo retail de jugos, el espacio asignado a ¨cocina¨ no tiene paneles de cielorraso lavables. Deberán ser cambiados. Archivos personales.

El resto es parte de los documentos típicos de construcción. Las preguntas básicas son:
Son los paneles de cielorraso aptos para la cocina (de haberla)?
Habrá preparación de comida?
Habrá penetraciones entre los negocios adyacentes que requieran protección contra fuego y cuántas horas de protección?
Hay suficientes puertas de salida? Puertas de emergencia?
Cuál es la condición de las cañerías, los paneles eléctricos, etc?
Son los Amperes de los tableros suficientes para el nuevo uso? Como un ejemplo importante, pasar de un negocio de venta de ropa a un yogurt store o restaurant obviamente requiere mucha más carga eléctrica.
Cómo está diseñado el estacionamiento? Hay rampas de veredas, líneas diagonales, carteles de accesibilidad?
Son los baños existentes correctos para ADA?
Es la cantidad de baños adecuada para el nuevo uso y cantidad de gente?
Es el edificio histórico? De serlo, cuáles son las restricciones?
Es el tipo de piso, y cielorraso, las terminaciones, permitidas?
Hay alguna obra realizada dentro del local sin permiso? Por ejemplo, equipamiento no declarado.
Las paredes entre locales (demising walls) son las originales permitidas?

Habría otras preguntas, pero al menos éstas serán suficientes para que el lector entienda qué mirar. 
Estamos aquí para ayudar, si tiene preguntas,

Penetraciones existentes desde un restaurant en segundo piso a un negocio en el primer piso. Se debe verificar si son protegidas contra fuego. Archivos personales.

Aquí, la pared divisoria entre negocios no tiene la altura total requerida. Archivos personales.

Equipamiento eléctrico sobre una plataforma precaria. Deberá cambiarse por otra de concreto. Archivos personales.

Soluciones no permitidas para ADA. Una remodelación exterior será requerida. Archivos personales.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Opening a business: What is needed for a tenant improvement?

A retail with exposed pipes and plumbing connections. Concrete curbs to be demolished.
Personal archives

I am writing this post mostly for people who decide to lease their first retail to begin a business in California. Most of the times, they look at the place, if they like it, they go for it, without researching about what the City departments (and eventually Health Department) will request.
The fastest case, is to pass from a certain use to the same use (or similar) without any more changes than painting, decoration. In order to open the business, the City will request a business license. Let's say, from offices to offices for administration it is just a simple step, a floor plan could be needed if the City has no records of the property.
A complete different scenario would be from administration offices to medical offices, beginning with, the occupancy load (people that will be inside the building) will be quite higher.

The first duty from the tenant, and before signing a lease, is to go to the City Hall, Planning department, and ask if the new use is allowed. Second, how many parkings will be requested. And find out if what it is offered at the job site is enough. Take into account, that applying for a variance on parkings is a process that takes a very long time (in the meantime the rent must be paid), and most probably the result is negative. 
The broker (if there is any) not always has this information, or he/she could even hide the restrictions.

Let us suppose the use is allowed, and the parking stalls are OK. Then, the handicap accessibility is very important. Your retail must be fully accessible, even for employees. If not, this is discrimination.
Of course there is the "grandfather" clause which protects the existing construction, those that have very old permits and while there are no remodels, the structures can be kept "as is".

The slab that needs repair, the framing is still exposed. Personal archives

But if there is a remodel, everything has to comply with the current Codes. A percentage of the investment must be destined to accessibility improvements. A budget has to be disclosed, or at least it will be based on the valuation of works. If the improvements are very important, and there is no technical way to do part of them, a hardship form must be submitted to Building and Safety.

How does the tenant show the new accessibility improvements? Through the architectural plans needed for the Tenant Improvement (T.I.), as part of a package that could be completed with mechanical, electrical, plumbing, structural, plans and calculations, depending on the scope of works and type of business.
We usually begin showing on ADA and egress plans the exit signs, the Braille signs, interior improvements inside bathrooms. Then, if it's not enough for the amount of investment requested for ADA, we continue with the parkings. And this is related to ramps, sidewalks, signs, path of travel, etc. It means much more money than the tenant would imagine. 
Has the tenant the obligation to provide all of this? Yes, up to the established amount destined to ADA. Usually, the tenant has an arrangement with the landlord, while the tenant works inside, the landlord deals with the exterior improvements.
When the case is very hard to comply, the City could send an ADA inspector to find a Solomonic (reasonable) solution.

Old air conditioners, on precarious platforms. Will the AC units be enough for the new use?
Personal archives

Coming back to the plans for a TI, one common mistake is to believe that only one plan is needed. This would be a very minor remodel, minimum two plans are needed, a site plan with the parkings and surrounding buildings, a floor plan. For more important works, full architectural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical and (maybe) structural are needed. If the business is related to food, remember Health Department takes 21 business days to release the plan check comments. The tenant should negotiate with the landlord how many months of "grace" would be granted to allow the architects and engineers to prepare plans and comply with the plan check. The grace period varies between two or three months.

Here, though the bathroom has a good size, there are no ADA bars
Personal archives

We highly recommend for new tenants with little experience in this process, to consult an architect or experienced designer before proceeding to sign the lease if there is a change of use.
Some special changes of uses may take Planning Commission, and it is translated to months.
What the tenant should be aware of? 
First of all, if the retail business license is still active. After 6 months of having a revoked license or the place has been closed, the grandfather rights are expired. Everything has to be under the current Zoning and Building Code.
Let's say, you want to lease a restaurant, and it has been closed for more than 6 months. Brand new plans must be submitted if the use is still permitted. 

In a new food store, the kitchen does not have washable ceiling ties.
Personal archives

The rest is part of the typical construction documents that we should take care of. Basic questions:
Are the ceiling panels Ok for the kitchen (if any)?
Will there be preparation of food?
Are penetrations between tenants fire proof, as many hours as needed per Code?
Are there enough exit doors? Are they Code compliant?
What is the condition of the pipes, electrical panels, etc?
Is the Amperage enough for the new use? As a rough example, from a clothes retail to a yogurt store, obviously the panel would not be enough.
How is the parking designed? Is there any curb ramp, are there stripes on the lot, accessibility signs?
Is the bathroom compliant?
Are the clients able to use the restroom? 
Is the quantity of restrooms enough for the new use and new occupancy load?
Is the building historical? If so, which are the restrictions?
Is the type of flooring allowed?
Are the demising walls in their original location? ETC.

There would be other questions as well, but at least I am opening the readers' minds.
We are here to help. If you have further questions,

Existing penetrations from a restaurant on second floor to a retail on first floor. It has to be verified if this is fire rated. Personal archives

Here, the demising wall is not full height. Personal archives

Electrical equipment on a precarious platform. Personal archives

Non permitted ADA solutions that must be remodeled. Personal archives

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

¿Qué es una legalización de obras (ilegales) no permitidas?

Un cerramiento precario en un segundo piso, en montaña. Archivos personales

Una legalización de obras o trabajos de construcción (ilegales) no permitidas, significa presentar planos de arquitectura, de energía (si se necesitan), y estructurales más los cálculos pertinentes, para traer todos los trabajos de acuerdo a los códigos vigentes. En otras palabras, lo que ha sido construído sin permiso ni inspecciones, se muestran como ¨nuevos¨. Dichas obras sin permiso deben ser entonces, reparadas, alteradas, reforzadas, modificadas, para estar bajo los códigos corrientes. El plan check (revisión de los planos en la Ciudad) y los permisos deben ser pagados e inspecciones son necesarias, incluso para lo que esté escondido, por ejemplo en los áticos o bajo tierra, o dentro de las paredes, etc.

¿Quién es responsable por esto? El propietario actual. Es común escuchar a los propietarios decir ¨Yo no lo hice, lo compré así¨. Él puede tener la oportunidad de llevar a Corte a la empresa de Bienes Raíces (Real State) pero, finalmente, luego de la inspección (survey) y la aceptación y firma de la escritura (Grant Deed), el comprador está aceptando las condiciones de la propiedad. Mi consejo, por favor chequee los records antes de comprar o rentar.

Cuídese de los contratistas no licenciados. Ellos pueden tentar a los propietarios e inquilinos para construír sin permiso, para evitar los tiempos del proceso de presentación de planos. Podríamos decir que dado el caso, son culpables. Pero no son responsables. 
¿Porqué menciono ¨no licenciado?¨. Pues porque si el contratista es licenciado, seguramente temerá que el propietario o inquilino lo denuncie al Board de Contratistas y así pueda suspenderle o revocarle la licencia por mala praxis.

Podría suceder que los registros (records) en el Assessor´s Office difieran de los records en la Ciudad. ¿Porqué es ello? El Assessor´s tiene siluetas y planos que determinan el monto de taxes que Ud paga por la propiedad, además pueden determinar por fotografías aéreas si el tamaño del edificio es mayor al declarado. Pero esta información no siempre coincide con los records de la Ciudad.
A los fines de la legalización, los records en la Ciudad son los válidos. Una vez que la legalización se termina, habrá un registro actualizado en la oficina del Assessor (taxes).

¿Es importante legalizar las estructuras sin permiso? Por supuesto. El propietario puede ser denunciado por un vecino o simplemente alguien que haya visto las irregularidades, las estructuras pueden llevar orden de demolición en consecuencia; los inquilinos pueden mandar al propietario a Corte, hay una situación de seguridad de la gente viviendo allí, y en caso de un incendio, la compañía de seguros puede no cubrir los daños. Entre otras consecuencias. Una propiedad con construcciones ilegales disminuye su valor en el mercado.

¿Se necesita sólo un plano? No. Es un paquete de planos más cálculos. Dependiendo de la complejidad y el tipo de trabajos, los básicos son arquitectura, energía (agua caliente, calefacción, aislación térmica), estructuras. Más planos y cálculos podrían ser agregados a la lista. En proyectos comerciales, planos y cálculos mecánicos, eléctricos y de plomería son necesarios, por ejemplo.

Una fisura vertical en un muro de contención (retaining wall), en ladera de montaña. De mis archivos personales

Un problema típico de una adición ilegal es la falta de fundación. Generalmente las paredes exteriores son construídas precariamente sobre un piso de concreto, sin barrera de vapor hacia el suelo, ni aislación térmica por dentro. A veces, los patio cover se cierran, y la altura no es suficiente, entonces otro techo debe ser construído arriba para resolver el problema de agregar la aislación térmica.
A veces la legalización no es total si no una parte. Veamos el ejemplo abajo. Aquí tenemos dos trabajos ilegales: los ceiling joists (maderas del cielorraso) han sido quitadas y hubo que agregar soporte extra; la aislación con espuma de Poliestireno no ha sido permitida, dado que el proveedor no tenía su número de reporte de calidad ICC en California, por lo tanto hubo que quitarla y reemplazarla.

La foto abajo muestra un cuarto construído entre la casa y el garage existente. El cuarto es muy bajo, la demolición ilegal, hubo que presentar viga, postes, paredes y fundaciones nuevas. El hogar (fireplace) no es compatible con el Green Code y se demolió.

Las legalizaciones no son exclusivas de las residencias. También los comercios tienen cantidad de alteraciones sin permiso que pueden ser muy peligrosas si están relacionadas con seguridad contra fuego. La foto debajo muestra una pileta de tres compartimientos con un drenaje incorrecto para las normas del departamento de Salud. El trabajo fue rechazado  y debió rehacerse.

Debajo, una cocina exterior standard, bajo un techo de madera y sin protección contra fuego. Además, está muy cerca de las líneas divisorias. Es un caso insalvable, a no ser que se provean estrictas protecciones contra fuego. Sin embargo, las distancias a los vecinos (set backs) pueden ser aceptados o no por Planning Department, según las normas de la Ciudad.

Los patio covers sin braces podrían ser ilegales. Los ¨braces¨ son las maderas diagonales que colaboran en las cargas laterales (terremotos). Digo ¨podrían ser¨ porque hay patio covers muy antiguos que se construían así. La ventana es nueva, y podría no ser adecuada para el cálculo de energía Título 24. De ser así, tiene que ser cambiada.

La foto abajo muestra dos construcciones muy cercas entre sí, los aleros no son contra fuego. Imaginen qué peligroso es si una casa se prende fuego. La legalización podría implicar reconstruír la estructura no permitida con el set back obligatorio.

Debajo, una pared dividiendo un garage entre dos unidades de vivienda, una adyacente, otra detrás. Si esa pared no tiene altura total de piso a techo ni protecciones contra fuego, un incendio puede propagarse rápidamente...

Debajo, vemos un cuarto en una casa de los últimos años. Esta construcción es ilegal y el espacio cerrado entre el garage y la vivienda no tiene suficiente iluminación y ventilación para un área habitable.

¿Qué hacer en caso que haya una visita de un inspector, o una noticia de la Ciudad, o ¨Code Enforcement¨?
Primero, hacer una cita con el inspector y ver qué es lo que se requiere. El inspector dejará una nota escrita con una fecha límite para presentar planos o demoler.
Segundo, si Ud no tiene intenciones de demoler, contrate a un profesional que proceda con la legalización. Pague una extensión para permitir más tiempo para preparar planos y cálculos.
Pregunte al profesional acerca de las posibilidades de salvar las estructuras sin permiso. Como puede ver en los ejemplos arriba, no siempre pueden ser rescatadas en su totalidad. Y a veces es más caro reparar, modificar, que construír de cero.
Tercer paso, mantenga contacto con el inspector a cargo y comuníquele los avances. Podría suceder que el inspector desconozca las actualizaciones en el sistema y el estado actual del proceso de plan check.
Si hay gente viviendo bajo estructuras ilegales, negocie un período de tiempo para que se vayan, porque es considerado ¨no seguro¨ para sus vidas. Hable con el inspector para ver posibles fechas.
Al final de la construcción, y teniendo todas inspecciones pasadas y aprobadas, pida un Certificate of Occupancy, comúnmente llamado ¨final de obra¨. 

NOTA: las fotos pertenecen a mis archivos personales. Las estructuras mostradas han sido parcialmente demolidas y reparadas. 
Este post tiene como objetivo ayudar a los propietarios e inquilinos que no conocen los problemas explicados. Si tiene alguna pregunta, aquí estamos para ayudar.

Monday, November 19, 2018

What is a legalization of non-permitted (illegal) construction works?

Precarious enclosure in a second story, hill side. Personal archives.

A legalization of (illegal) non permitted structures or construction works means to submit architectural, energy plans and calculations (as needed) and structural plans and calculations to bring everything back to Code. In other words, what had been built without a permit and inspections is shown as "new". The non permitted constructions must be repaired, altered, reinforced, modified as needed to comply with the current Codes, permits must be paid and inspections are needed, even for whatever is hidden, inside attics, underground, etc.
Who is responsible for this? The current owner. It is common to hear from owners "I didn't make it, I bought it as is". The owner may have the chance to sue the Real State company, but finally, and after a survey and the acceptance of the Grant Deed, the person is at the same time accepting the conditions of the property. My advice, please check the records before buying or even leasing. 
Beware of non-licensed contractors. They could lure the owners-tenants to build without a permit, to avoid waiting for the permits process. They could be guilty of deceiving but they are not responsible.
Why do I mention a "non lincensed" contractor? Because if the contractor is licensed, he will be afraid the owner-tenant can call the Board of Contractors and have his licensed suspended or revoked.

It may happen that the records at the Assessor's Office differ from the records at the City. Why is this? The Assessor's have silhouettes and plans to determine the taxes you are paying for the property, and they may even find in aerial pictures if the building is bigger than declared. But whatever information is at the Assesor's office, does not need to match with the City records.
To the purposes of a legalization, the City records are the valid ones. Once the legalization is ready, there will be an updated record for the Assessor's office (taxes).
Is it important to legalize structures? Of course. The homeowner maybe be denounced, the structures may have notice of demolition, illegal tenants can sue the "landlord", there are issues involving the safety of people, in case of fire the insurance company may not cover the damages. Among other inconveniences. A house with illegal construction diminishes its value in the market.

Is it just one plan needed? No, this is a package of plans. Depending on the complexity and type of works, the basics are architectural, energy, structural. More plans and calculations could be added. In commercial works, mechanical, electrical and plumbing, as an example.

A structural fissure in an illegal retaining wall, hillside. Personal archives

One typical problem of an illegal room addition is the lack of foundation, exterior walls are usually built precariously on an existing slab, no vapor barrier is provided, no walls and ceiling thermal insulation. Sometimes if the patio cover is enclosed, the height is not enough and another roof must be built on top of the existing to solve the problem.
Sometimes the legalization is not for the building but part of it. Let's see in the example below, we have two illegal works: the ceiling joists have been removed and extra support must be added; this foam insulation is no permitted in California (the provider failed to show an ICC report number approved in CA) and it has to be removed and replaced. 

The picture below is showing the construction of a room between a house and an existing (permitted) garage. The room is very low, the demolition is illegal, a header and posts must be verified and provided. The fireplace is not compliant with the current Green Code. 

Legalizations are not exclusive of residential. Commercial constructions have lots of illegal alterations that may be dangerous if they are related to fire safety. The picture below is showing a non permitted three compartments sink drainage. The work was rejected by Health department and Building and Safety.

Below, the standard outdoor kitchen, without fire safety under the roof. Besides, it is too close to the property lines. This is a case that is not possible to be saved, unless strict fire protection is provided. The set backs could or could not be accepted by planning department.

Patio covers without braces could be illegal. Braces are the diagonal 4x woods that collaborate in the lateral loads (earthquakes). I say "could be" because very old patio cover constructions may appear like this. The window is new and may be not compliant with the Title 24 energy calculation. If so, it has to be changed.

The picture below shows two constructions very close to each other, there is no eaves fire protection. Needless to say how dangerous it is if one structure is set on fire. The legalization would imply to rebuild the non permitted structure with the required set back.

Below, a wall diving a garage from two dwelling units, one adjacent, the other below. It has no full height, it is not built as a fire barrier. Fire could spread so easily...

This is a modern house, from the last years. The construction between the garage and the house proves to be illegal, the space is enclosed and not enough illumination and ventilation for a habitable space is provided.

What to do in case of an inspector's visit, a notice from the City, a Code enforcement? 
First of all, make an appointment with the inspector. Find out what he/she is requesting. The inspector will leave a written note with a due date to submit plans or demolish. 
Secondly, if you do not have the intention of demolishing, then hire a professional to proceed with the legalization and pay for an extension, to allow time to prepare the plans and calculations.
Ask the professional about the possibilities of saving the structures. As you can see in some examples above, not always they can be totally saved. And sometimes this is more expensive to repair, remodel, fix than building brand new.
Third step, keep contact with the inspector in charge and communicate the updates of the process. It may happen the inspector is not aware of the current status of the plan check.
If there is people living under illegal structures, they must have a period of time to leave, because it is considered unsafe. Talk to the inspector for reasonable due dates.
At the end of the construction works and having the inspections approved in full, request the Certificate of Occupancy, commonly called "the final".

NOTE: the pictures belong to my personal archives. The structures have been (partially) demolished and repaired. 
This post is meant to help homeowners and tenants who are not aware of the issues explained above. If you have a question, we are here to help.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What is a ¨Garage conversion¨ into ADU Accessory Dwelling Unit_

A common problem: the side wall and the eave are very close to the property line. A modification of the eave to be 1 hr fire rate is needed and the 1 hr fire rate assembly for the wall must be proven. Picture from my personal archives. It has been cropped to protect the homeowners' privacy.

"Garage conversion" into ADU or Accessory Dwelling Unit means the conversion of an existing garage into a habitable dwelling. This is permitted in California due to the Bill Senate 1069. For the City of Los Angeles, the link below will help for a better clarification:

Basically, it is established that, given the housing crisis, their high costs (estimated in 2.5% on top of the national average), plus the expensive rents (50% on top of the national average), barriers against the construction of ADU would be eliminated within certain restrictions. Among those restrictions would be maximum percentages of square footage compared to the main unit, maximum square footage allowed, set backs, off street parkings, etc.
This post is referred to general outlines and each property would be restricted by the Zoning code corresponding to its City.

The main question is, can a garage be converted into a dwelling? Yes, even if it is detached or attached to the main house.
There are two important issues:

1. If the garage is not modified and its original square footage (per records) is kept, the set backs (front, rear, side distances to the property lines) stay "as is" no extra off street parking is needed.
2. If the homeowner decides to enlarge the garage, then all restrictions of set backs and off street parkings apply as if it were a brand new second unit. With this being said, there must be verified if the parking spaces and back up clearances fit into the lot.

There are particular cases, like in Carson, where the ADU could be considered a living space for a bachelor, with a basic kitchen, the bathroom could be new inside the ADU or the existing bathrooms inside the main house may be used (in an attached ADU).

One of the main problems I've seen, is that the homeowners consider the garage conversion is just only one floor plan, showing the garage as a dwelling. This is extremely incorrect, for a new conversion or for a legalization of a change of use that was made without a permit. The legalization means to submit plans of new construction for the works that do not have a record, so no permits have been paid for them and they were not subject to inspections.

To pass from an accessory structure like an inhabitable garage to a livable dwelling is object of many considerations. Mostly when the structure is from old times. Obviously, the codes employed E.G. 30 years ago, are not the same than the current ones, which have more safety measurements against fire and earthquakes.
The garage must comply then with construction requisites that must be approved under the current Codes. People who is meant to live inside an ADU has to be safe!.

So, basic plans and calculations needed for the (construction of a) garage conversion into an ADU are the following:

1. Architectural plans: site plan, floor plan, cross sections, electrical and plumbing layout, green code forms, elevations (facades), construction details (walls assemblies, ventilations, LID low impact development, fire rated details, etc), construction notes, roofing, etc.
2. Structural plans and calculations: a garage must not have a ceiling. If originally it had collar ties, then they wont be enough to support the new drywall ceiling. Ceiling joists would be added, and it means new loads to the existing structure. There must be a new foundation below the former garage door, with epoxy connection to the existing foundation. Foundations must be revised. The existing slab concrete must be leveled and a vapor barrier provided. New shearwalls upgrades (walls against earthquakes) should be added.
Depending on the City, the structural plan check could be more or less intensive.
3. Energy calculations and plans: This is Title 24 which applies to heating (and this is an obligation), windows coefficients and hot water.
Some landscape design may be requested as well, like new trees planting, and or planters.

Ceiling insulation inside a garage illegally converted. We should call it out R30 insulation. Ceiling joists were added. Structural calculations will be needed. The picture is from my personal archives. It was cropped to protect the privacy.

The approval process at the City is similar to any new construction, though all departments needed for a new house must be passed (approved). This includes Sanitation as well. As always, construction works must not be commenced until the plans are approved and the permits are paid. They include only one time payment for the School District.
If the conversion is illegal (without a permit), we recommend to ask for an extension to allow time to prepare the plans. Once the permits are paid, inspectors would be called to inspect the works in stages. Some areas must be open to allow access and technical evaluation.

If you have any question, we are here to help you. A consultation to the Planning department of your City would be the first step.


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