How to conform to city code with a nonconforming structure
Many homeowners on the Westside are familiar with the term, “legal nonconforming.” This relates to the fact that many of the structures over here were built long before the city updated its codes, generally making them more stringent than in the past.
So what can people do if they own a legal nonconforming strucuture? In response to a Westside Pioneer inquiry, Erin McCauley of City Land Use Review explained the codes in a recent e-mail: “Legal non-conforming buildings/ uses don't need approval to exist, but they do need approval to expand. A lot of the variances we see pertain to additions to existing buildings and in these cases, new construction must meet current codes or obtain a nonuse variance. One of the criteria for approving a nonuse variance is the location of the existing structure on the lot - so if the addition follows an existing line etc., the application is (more often than not) approvable.”
She also cited the code's section B (Repairs and Maintenance), which states: “A nonconforming structure occupied by either a conforming or legal nonconforming use may be repaired and maintained, and if it is declared to be unsafe by a Regional Building official, it may be strengthened or restored to a safe condition. However, the cost of repairs and maintenance shall not exceed fifty percent (50%) of the replacement cost of the structure, and there shall be no increase in the degree of nonconformity. (7.5.1204.B)”
McCauley was then asked: “So if people own a house, for example, with an old, existing garage that's 'legal non-conforming,' but then it collapses or whatever and they decide to replace it - in the SAME footprint as before - do they or don't they need to put a request in to Land Use Review? Or can they just go to Regional and get a building permit?”
Her answer follows:
“If the structure is completely destroyed, the property owner must adhere to the current setback requirements. In Chapter 7, Article 5, Part 12, the code explains what happens in the case of destruction:
“ 'D. Damage or De-struction of Structure: When a legal nonconforming structure is damaged by fire or other causes to the extent that the cost of the restoration exceeds fifty percent (50%) of the replacement cost of the use of land or structure, the nonconforming structure must be removed. (7.5.1204.D).'
“So if the building is destroyed and the owner wants to put it back in the exact same place , the owner would need variances if the location of the structure did not meet current setbacks. The owner should submit a pre-application request to LUR [Land Use Review].”
Westside Pioneer article