Adoption of Code Enforcement Program Mandating Inspection of Property Without Prior Complaint Is Exempt from CEQA

In Apartment Ass’n. of Greater Los Angeles v. City of Los Angeles (2001) ___ Cal.Rptr.2d ___ [2001 WL 884969], a program mandating the inspection of residential rental units and repair of units found to be in violation of municipal regulations was determined to be the proper subject of a categorical exemption from analysis under the C-E-Q-A (CEQA). In differing circumstances, adoption of the program would require the preparation of an “initial study” and possibly an environmental impact report (EIR). The Court held that neither an “initial study” nor an EIR was required because the program’s purpose was to restore or rehabilitate deteriorated or damaged structures, and such projects fall under a specific exemption from CEQA review.

The permanent program replaced a similar interim program that Los Angeles had implemented in 1998. The “proactive” program of inspection without receiving a prior complaint differed from Los Angeles’ previous practice of inspecting rental property only when the City received a complaint. The Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles, an association of residential landlords, and Golden Bull, Inc. opposed the program, claiming that CEQA required Los Angeles to prepare an EIR before adopting it. They argued that the program would have a significant environmental impact because it could cause “widespread foreclosure, abandonment and removal of affordable rental housing” in Los Angeles, and because repairs necessitated by the program would result in the transport, use, and disturbance of “potentially toxic and/or hazardous materials,” which could displace numerous tenants and cause changes to buildings of “historic value.”

The Court of Appeal agreed with the City that CEQA categorically exempts the program from environmental study under a “Class 1” exemption. The “Class 1” exemption, sometimes known as the “existing facilities” exemption, includes projects restricted in scope to the operation, repair, maintenance, permitting, lease, licensing or minor alteration of structures, facilities, equipment or topographical features. As described under section 15301(d) of the CEQA guidelines, the “Class 1” designation includes any project limited in scope to restoring or rehabilitating deteriorated or damaged structures “to meet current standards of public health, safety and environmental protection.” Because the city’s code enforcement inspection program was designed to accomplish the restoration and rehabilitation of structures to meet Los Angeles’ public health and safety standards, the program was covered by the Class 1 exemption from CEQA.

If you have any questions about this legal alert, please call Michael F. Dean or any other Public Agency attorney at (916) 321-4500.