Santa Cruz County’s Safe Structures Program - formerly called the Limited Immunity Amnesty Program
In an effort to provide safer, affordable housing, Santa Cruz County Building and Planning Department just released a new program called the Safe Structures Program. This program lets property owners who have unpermitted housing structures work with County officials to add health, habitability, and safety features. In exchange, the County will consider certified structures as a low priority for future code enforcement actions: “limited immunity amnesty,” even if the structures are unable to meet current building code requirements.
Here are some of the advantages of the program:
- Lower costs
o Reduced county fees for: permits for modifications, reduced impact fees, and waived penalty fees
o Some potential tenant relocation costs are eliminated
- Any future complaints about the unpermitted structure would be answered by the County with the certification that the structure is safe and habitable, and that the County considers it a low priority for enforcement
- County Staff Assistance
o Specialists can help property owners work with the Safe Structures Program
o Specialists can also help property owners who’d like to fully legalize their structures through the permit process
- If the property owner decides not to finalize the process, the County won’t pursue enforcement action “unless an imminent hazard affects health and safety.”
The program does have certain qualifications:
- Construction was completed before January 2014
- The structure can’t qualify for complete legalization under normal rules and processes
- Current cases already involved in code compliance may qualify on a case by case basis
- Accessory dwelling units (ADUs), remodels, additions, and recent construction may qualify
- The structure is maintained so it continues to meet those health and habitability standards
The process: There’s a 60+ point county inspection of the property, including safety criteria for stairs and railings, lighting, locks, septic system, carbon monoxide detectors and smoke alarms, water heater earthquake bracing, GFCI or AFCI electrical outlets where needed, sufficiently sized compliant electrical panel, potable water supply, emergency routes from bedrooms, safety features for gas appliances and heaters, widths of doors and halls, etc.. Habitability features include hot and cold water, a heater (not just a woodstove), cooking and refrigeration, lockable windows without cracks, and lack of infestations (molds, bugs, vermin, etc.). Other portions of the structure won’t have to be brought up to current building codes under this program, as long as the overall structure is determined to be safe and habitable.
Expect to pay about $800 in initial fees. Unlike other compliance issues where fees can be doubled for illegal unpermitted structures, owners may simply pay normal permit costs to bring structures up to current code on the items identified on the 60+ point inspection checklist. There are many nuances and each situation is unique, so for more information, visit http://sccoplanning.com/LIAP or e-mail LIAP@santacruzcounty.us. Property owners can also go directly to the Building Counter at the Planning Department at 701 Ocean Street, 4th Floor. Tip: Consider parking in a two hour visitor space, not a one hour space, as parking time is enforced.
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