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Councilmember wants higher fines for ‘unscrupulous developers’ who work without permits

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Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell says he was spurred by cases like the demolished Yolk store in Silver Lake

An aerial photo of a half-finished mansion jutting out of a hillside.
A Bel Air spec house that ended up much larger than it was supposed to be.
Courtesy of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips

In April, a contractor remodeling the former home of Yolk in Silver Lake largely demolished the front half of the Streamline Moderne-style building. The work extended far beyond what the owner had obtained city permits to do, and it caused a stir in the neighborhood.

It also caught the attention of Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell, who represents the area.

At his request, the council is going to take a closer look at increasing fees to deter property owners from overreaching or doing work without a permit.

O’Farrell’s motion, which was approved Wednesday by the full City Council, came right after the Yolk building incident. But there are plenty of similar examples throughout the district—and across the city.

The most high-profile example can be found in Bel Air, where megamansion developer Mohamed Hadid is entangled in a lawsuit with homeowners near his under-construction spec mansion. Neighbors allege that Hadid built something much larger than what the city approved.

“That’s not how we should accept people doing business in Los Angeles,” says O’Farrell.

Right now, the fees aren’t steep enough to discourage someone from going beyond what they’re approved to do, says Craig Bullock, the planning director for O’Farrell. Mostly, they are seen as a cost of doing business, he says.

The objective, says O’Farrell, is to increase the penalty to the degree that some “unscrupulous developer” would take pause before demolishing a building without a proper permit.

His motion also asks for a report from the building and safety department for the current fee schedule for building code violations and notes that “it’s likely that the time and money saved by performing unpermitted work eclipse[s] the monetary value of the penalties.”