Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What may I do in Los Angeles?

I've been slogging through the interwebs trying to figure out what is legal for me to do with my Los Angeles property. May I have bees (no)? May I cultivate and sell potted herbs (yes)? May I keep chickens (yes, non-commercially)?

As I've successfully traversed the system and come out the other end without assistance from city engineers I'll share with you the road to my success. A caveat: YMMV. Things change, and by the time you read this the home version of our game may be vastly different. Verifying these things for yourself should be easier with the following information.

1. Find out your zoning code.

Go to the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety.

Under the second tab [LADBS Services] select [Zoning], then [Zoning Information]. The first link is [Parcel Profile Report]. Click on that.

Type in your street number: 111
Then your street name: Mockingbird

Do not add "Lane", or "Street", or anything like that - just the name.

Hit [Search].

Under #2: Basic Zoning Information for Parcel
The last piece of information - [Zone(s):] will be your zoning code. In my case my zone is R2-1VL. The key piece of information is before the hyphen. Basically, I'm R2, which means "residential, 2 units". The "IVL" has something to do with building height - irrelevant to this discussion.

2. Accessory Uses

What you are interested in is what you can do with your property besides living in your house. This is called an accessory use.

You will want to peruse the Accessory Use definition under Section 12.03, Article 2, Chapter 1of the Municipal Code. See below on how to get there. It covers garage sales, exotic animals, historic cars, etc.

There is a manual at Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety nicknamed the "Zoning Manual" linked at:
The real name is "City of Los Angeles Zoning Code Manuel and Commentary, Fourth Edition." This is a lot of question and answer and NOT the hardcore zoning information that you are looking for - but you might be interested, so I'm linking to it.

What you, my hardcore, nerdy urban farmer friend, are looking for is:

The American Legal Publishing Corporation, for the City of Los Angeles

Click on [Municipal Code]
Then, in the left hand menu, click on the [+] next to [Municipal Code], then [Chapter 1 General Provisions and Zoning].
Next, click on the [+] next to [Article 2 Specific Planning - Zoning Comprehensive Zoning Plan].

Here you will see definitions and all the zones listed, with their section numbers: OS, PF, A1, A2, RA, RE, RS, R1, R2, RU, RZ, etc. These are listed in order of restriction - least restrictive (OS - open space to more restrictive - R2, in my case). Click on the link for your zone.

In my case, R2 (section number 12.09), the first thing I need to notice is that I can use my property for anything "permitted in the 'R1' One-family Zone", so I'll need to go back and read the R1 section, as well. R1 is less restrictive than R2, so my rights include those of R1, and any additional restrictions listed for R2..

Item number 6 on this page lists: "Accessory uses and home occupations, subject to the conditions specified in Section 12.05 A.16. of this Code. (Amended by Ord. No. 171,427, Eff. 1/4/97, Oper. 3/5/97.)"

Section 12.05 A.16 covers the conditions and standards for home occupations - working out of your house.

You will have to get a business license from the city, and a sales tax number through the state. Since you will only be able to sell in Los Angeles you will have to collect sales tax on your sales. You might want to consider liability insurance for your business. These are requirements and this suggestion are not covered here.

Now, I'll use the left hand menu to go back to zone R1.

What I am interested in her is item number 3.
(Amended by Ord. No. 181,188, Eff. 7/18/10.) Truck gardening; the keeping of equines, poultry, rabbits and chinchillas in conjunction with the residential use of the lot, provided that:
and it goes on to tell me the restrictions.

The important part here is Ordinance number 181.188

This very cool ordinance, the "Food & Flowers Freedom Act", was signed into law on June 4, 2010. It was ushered into existence by the Urban Farming Advocates of Los Angeles. Read the ordinance. At the top you'll see a bunch of numbers. These correspond to various zones, which I've explained below.

12.03 Definitions
12.04.09 'PF' Public Facilities Zone
12.05 'OS' Open Space Zone
12.06 'A2' Agricultural Zone
12.07 'RA' Suburban Zone
12.07.01 'RE' Residential Zone
12.08 'R1' One-family Zone
12.09.03 'RMP' Mobilehome Park Zone
12.17.5 'MR1' Restricted Industrial Zone

R2 is not listed as my section is incorporated in R1. So if your zone is not included here, make sure it's not included in another zone.

The definitions section is important, though definitions for farming and truck gardening may be read in the ordinance.

FARMING. The cultivation of berries, flowers, fruits, grains, herbs, mushrooms, nuts, ornamental plants, seedlings or vegetables for use on-site or sale or distribution on-site or off-site.

TRUCK GARDENING. The cultivation of berries, flowers, fruits, grains, herbs, mushrooms, nuts, ornamental plants, seedlings or vegetables for use on-site or sale or distribution off-site.

These sound the same. The difference is truck gardening only allows sales off-site, whereas farming allows sales on-site.

So, living in R2 I may cultivate and sell the items listed under truck gardening, but to sell plants off-site legally you need a nursery license. If you read the zoning code, however, nurseries are not allowed in most zones. There seems to be a conflict. Cultivating herbs and ornamental plants and seedlings is definitely nursery work as defined by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. It does seem that Ord. No. 181,188 allows truck gardeners to have a nursery license.

There are different kinds of nursery licenses. Since I am just starting out I chose NIPM 2.4: Fee Exempt License (35 KB) which requires I sell less than $1000 worth of product, that I cultivate that product myself, and do not sell my product outside of Los Angeles County. If I succeed within these modest parameters I will return and shop for a different, more full-fledged license.

Hope this is clear. Again, this is not legal advice - it is only what I learned going through this system myself. I hope that I have given you the tools to help you figure out for yourself what you can do with the property on which you live.


  1. Ahh, just found your beautiful blog! All very very interesting and informative. I hope to learn a lot from you ;-)

  2. I was getting dizzy searching all the LA bldg dept info. I just wanted to know what R2 meant. Thanks for clearing that up!