In Horwitz v. City of Los Angeles (2004 Daily Journal D.A.R. 14,859, Cal.App. 2 Dist., Dec. 15, 2004), the California Court of Appeal considered the issue of whether a City should revoke a permit issued to a homeowner where the permit was based on an erroneous calculation of the front-yard setback.
Homeowners, Mehr and Vickey Beglari, received permits from the City of Los Angeles to significantly enlarge their home. Neighboring property owners challenged the permits, in part because the proposed addition would impermissibly reduce the front-yard setback. The trial court ultimately ruled in favor of the neighboring property owners and ordered City to revoke the permits after Homeowners had constructed the addition. City and Homeowners appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Appellate Court Decision
A formula in City’s municipal code determines the appropriate front-yard setback as follows: it first measures the distance from the property line at the street to the closest existing building on the subject lot, then it measures the same distance on neighboring lots on the same street, and finally it averages those distances. The problem in this case arose because one of the neighboring lots used to calculate the appropriate setback had a detached garage on it. In the application for a permit, Homeowners did not reveal this fact and measured the setback on that lot from the street to the detached garage, not from the street to the house. This shorter distance allowed them to build their remodeled house fourteen feet closer to the street than they could have had they measured to the house.
In the past, City’s Department of Building and Safety has interpreted the municipal code as requiring that measurements be based on the distance from the street to the house (which may include an attached garage) and not on the distance from the street to a detached garage. Department acknowledged that, had it known that the garage on the neighboring property was detached, the setback would have been measured from the street to the main building not to the garage. Thus, its calculation of the appropriate setback would have been different and it would have denied the permit because Homeowner’s setback was too short.
Because the front-yard setback was miscalculated by Homeowners and mistakenly accepted by City, City must revoke the permit, as Homeowners’ house does not conform to the mandatory requirements of the zoning ordinance.
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