Via Mike Hewlett's Twitter feed comes this tale of overregulation of rental spaces in the Venice Beach area of Los Angeles.
Worried that their new landlord was trying to turn their Venice apartment building into a kind of illegal hotel, Phyllis Murphy and her neighbors wrote a letter to city officials.
The residents complained that some of the units were being rented out to tourists for short stays, bringing a revolving door of strangers into the complex on a tranquil stretch of Third Avenue….
So it was a shock when Murphy — a plucky 67-year-old with reddish hair and an easy laugh — abruptly found herself facing eviction.
City inspectors said they spotted the rentals that bothered Murphy. But they also concluded that only four of the eight units in the building had been legally permitted, according to city documents.
This doesn't quite rise to the level of seriousness evinced by, say, The Lives of Others, the German film about ubiquitous spying in the old GDR. But there's a level of irony here that seems lost not just of Phyllis Murphy but the Times' reporter, too:
More than 1,700 such "bootlegged" apartments have been shut down in the wake of city inspections since 2010, according to the housing department. Many are discovered through routine inspections of rental housing, but they can also be detected when city inspectors react to complaints about an apartment being used for an illegal purpose, like the one that Murphy and her neighbors lodged with the city….
Before the tenants asked the city for help, inspectors had never spotted any problem with extra units in their apartment building.
Housing officials say that the building had been inspected before, but they don't check a building's original paperwork during those routine inspections unless something makes them suspicious. After the residents raised concerns about illegal rentals, the department took a look at its files. City inspectors say four apartments at the Venice building were converted into eight by walling off bedrooms.
In an alternate reality, the city government wouldn't be calling shots on what is legal and illegal in terms of apartments, rents, sub-contracting, you name it. That would fall on the shoulders of owners and renters rather than what is at best a capricious set of rules enforced by bureaucrats whose actions are subject to wide variation.
According to Lisa Sturtevant of the National Housing Conference, regulatory approvals (zoning, inspections, and more) add up to $50,000 to the cost of new single-family dwellings in urban areas. That's a lot of scratch that ends limiting housing supply and squeezing residents in all sorts of ways.
Watch Todd Krainin's documentary "Jay Austin's Beautiful, Illegal Tiny House" to catch a glimpse of one way to make urban housing more affordable and more beautiful as well.