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Cheap housing: real industrial loft
Old 10-07-2007, 07:49 PM   #1
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Cheap housing: real industrial loft

I've always had a fantasy of living in a city loft. Not a redeveloped "loftominium" that costs more than an apartment. I'm thinking about how in the 60's and 70's artists would inhabit old factory spaces to have a cheap "live/work" space. Someplace where I'd have enough unfinished room to build fun things and generally make messes. Maybe being near other artists providing inspiration. I figured that dream was never going to happen since all lofts I see on the market these days are "luxury lofts" with granite countertops and platinum prices.

But the other day I met someone who is basically living that way today. He is living in an industrial park in Los Angeles, in a commercial space. It is basically a big warehouse type rectangular room, approx 20' wide, 40' long, and 25' high, with a big rolltop door entrance. Cinder block walls, cement floor, and skylights in the rafter ceilings.

He has built a loft above about half of it that encloses a bedroom and utility room, out of the steel supports normally used for warehouse shelving. It's incredibly solid and when he moves he can sell the supports used for about what he paid for them. He was a contractor in a former life, so he installed a bathtub, hot water heater, and kitchen sink. The space has an existing toilet and sink.

About half the space is still unfinished with the high ceilings and he has a photography studio there. He has tarps that cover the bedrooms above so even with the rolltop door open it looks like a normal commercial space.

He says that although this violates zoning laws, that his landlord knows about it and is not concerned. What's more, he says there are at least two other guys living in other units in this industrial park.

The kicker is the cost: He's paying rent of 50 cents a square foot of warehouse space, and because of the loft space he built it's really less than that. In Los Angeles (although admittedly a fairly rundown part of town). That sounds like an awfully good deal when I'm paying over $2 per square foot for my fancy finished San Francisco apartment.

Anyone living this way or considered it? Because it's illegal it requires keeping a low profile and probably makes socializing difficult. But it seems to me pretty much of a victimless crime as long as you are careful to make all modifications safe and to code. And you would have to live there for a while to recoup the investments in modifications.
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Old 10-07-2007, 09:47 PM   #2
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we had such a case come before our code enforcement board involving someone illegally living in an apartment constructed above a church and we stopped that real fast. i don't even know why but i recall none of us had any doubt but to act swiftly in this regard. some disputes could go either way and we really did try to be as lenient as we could in many cases to work with the owners. even when we levied fines we'd often negate them after the fact if the owner came quickly into compliance, much to the chagrin of certain council members who thought we should be in the business not of code compliance but of money making.

perhaps it was just that the church was making money on untaxed property, or that someone got more use out of their property than we were allowed to get from ours, perhaps it was life safety issues (such as a fire department not expecting to find residents when responding to an evening warehouse fire) but whatever the reason this somehow just flew in the face of code and we would not have it.
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Old 10-08-2007, 03:11 AM   #3
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I always thought that simple bribery would keep the code enforcement officer in compliance.
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Old 10-08-2007, 03:23 AM   #4
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I suppose if the cost was cheap enough and the location was in a mild climate. What would the cost be to heat and cool one of those places? I have heard tales of people buying an old large home and fixing it up. Only to find that the heating/cooling cost (because of size, insulation, old windows, etc) were astronomical. I have heard tales of $1000-$1500/mo.

Anyway... better get a read on that if the space is big and the space is old.
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Old 10-08-2007, 12:38 PM   #5
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Good point about the heating/cooling. This guy had made provisions for sliding skylight covers to control the sun in the daytime, and had added an air conditioner that only covered the enclosed loft bedroom, to deal with the hottest days.
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Old 10-08-2007, 02:09 PM   #6
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The industrial loft living has been a fantasy of mine for a while - closest we got was an old department store building downtown - had several commercial tenants and a vacant floor or two - and an elevator that would hold a car! The idea of having the ability to do a Bruce Wayne style exit and entrance, room for an inside go kart track, instant downtown access.... very tempting! Something about making it pay vs. risk kept us from buying it. Fascinated by really big white elephants: also looked at a northern NM boys school, one building of which had been an 1800s railroad hotel with a fireplace you could stand in and 2-3 feet of guano to harvest upstairs... REALLY thought about the ex-military base outside Condon Oregon, complete with officer's club, a dozen houses, and a two lane bowling alley. Thinking about it, if we could have stayed afloat with our noses above bankruptcy long enough, we would probably have done real well on any of them. I'ze too big of a chicken though - afraid to cast our fortunes on one roll of the dice. But a loft.. that'd be cool!
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Old 10-08-2007, 06:02 PM   #7
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I saw an article the other day about this guy who built an apartment on the sly in the parking garage in a mall. He got away with it for a couple of years before being caught.

I'm wondering what your friend in the loft uses for an official physical address. The IRS and some financial institutions insist on physical addresses.
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Old 10-08-2007, 07:15 PM   #8
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We bought an 8-unit from a lawyer who had had it about 15 years - in the laundry room he had built a 10x10 room with an attached tiny bath and closet: he had lived there while going to law school. Thought he was pretty smart - utility cost was borne by the utility cost of the complex, he was on-site management, basically lived cost free and graduated with a complex chugging along. We rent a tiny monastic cell place, 9x10 w/ closet and REALLY tiny bath for $275, utilities included, at another location - rented to a law student last year and a PA this year. Now why is it that the PA and the law student can choose to live in a really basic place while (ahem) some who have trouble making their rent payments are far too good for that?
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Old 10-08-2007, 08:50 PM   #9
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Loft? Is Jennifer Beals included in the deal? -ERD50
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Old 10-08-2007, 09:33 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chinaco View Post
I suppose if the cost was cheap enough and the location was in a mild climate. What would the cost be to heat and cool one of those places? I have heard tales of people buying an old large home and fixing it up. Only to find that the heating/cooling cost (because of size, insulation, old windows, etc) were astronomical. I have heard tales of $1000-$1500/mo.

Anyway... better get a read on that if the space is big and the space is old.
I have read of people building the equivalent of an indoor tent.
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Old 10-09-2007, 07:21 AM   #11
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Loft? Is Jennifer Beals included in the deal? -ERD50
She's a maniac...
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Old 10-10-2007, 01:23 PM   #12
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Isn't she the maniac for more?
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Old 10-10-2007, 01:41 PM   #13
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I always thought that simple bribery would keep the code enforcement officer in compliance.
Works where I live. As in other matters in life, it also helps to be fourth generation rather than a newbie. I believe the proper term is "pulling strings."
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