Tripping over Sidewalks in Los Angeles

If you are not aware, the City of Los Angeles is proposing to remove themselves from the responsibility of repairing broken sidewalks and place the onus directly on the property owner. As the “voice for Real Estate on the Westside”, I thought you should know about this transfer of responsibility.

While each of us recognizes the City is in the midst of an epic fiscal crisis, it cannot absolve itself of the liabilities and duties it assumed 36 years ago with passage of Los Angeles Municipal Code Section 62.104, Ordinance No. 146,040, effective July 3, 1974.

While some property owners may not oppose the transfer of responsibility for broken sidewalks, the real issue we are facing is how this new mandate will be implemented. There has been discussion, by the City, to place liens on properties with sidewalks in need of repair until such repairs are made. Before repairs can be made, however, the property owner will have to go through the inconvenient process of obtaining the proper permits for such work. And during the process, the City will employ its own inspectors to ensure the work is done to their standards.

With the housing market being what it is today where homeowners are being forced to sell their property, they are in no position to assume a heavy mandate amounting to thousands of dollars to repair sidewalks. Over the last two years, 70% of closed escrows were either REO or short sales (properties sold for less than the amount owed by the property owner). While that has improved to about 40%, many owners are still upside-down in their homes with no money to pay their mortgage, let alone sidewalk repairs. Current lenders, who own many properties through foreclosures, are already losing tens-of-thousands of dollars and will not assume the responsibility of sidewalk repairs. Additionally, this shift in responsibility will inevitably create higher insurance costs to the homeowner, as liability will be greater due to “trip and fall” incidents, etc.

In meetings with the City of Los Angeles earlier this year, they promised to have the Bureau of Street Services (BSS) perform community outreach initiatives to ask for input from community representatives before taking a final position in the matter. While a small effort was made on the community outreach initiatives, local Boards of Realtors do not feel it was enough.

What they are proposing is the following:

  • Demand to City Council Members that BSS conduct a comprehensive outreach effort to ALL Neighborhood Councils in each of the seven City Planning areas. (If they listen to Neighborhood Councils, as we have, they will discover a sincere willingness to seek and share solutions to this “quality of life” issue.);
  • The City of Los Angeles must conduct a California Environmental Quality Act feasibility study to determine what impact the proposed shift in responsibility would have on property owners and the ongoing maintenance and repair of sidewalks;
  • The City of Los Angeles must conduct an economic impact analysis to determine the cost to property owners and the extent of ongoing staffing and expenditures to the City if responsibility is shifted to homeowners;
  • The City of Los Angeles must conduct an analysis to determine the insurance liability and insurance affordability as both insurance questions relate to property owners and the City alike.

These and other critical questions must be answered before the City would be in a position to logically evaluate any solution, let alone implement an unjustly harsh plan that shifts the burden onto homeowners without, first, giving them a say in the matter.

Because property owners walk these streets of every community on a daily basis, it is time to become educated about the ramifications of this plan in each community. Perhaps we can find an across-the-board solution; responsibility to be shared among the City, property owners, businesses, community groups and neighborhood councils.

We need to urge the City to participate with us in elevating this issue, which we believe is a public safety priority. All of us have an obligation to ensure that all sidewalks are safe for all of our neighbors, and neighborhoods.

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