Worst Neighbor of 2012: Ultra-modernist Los Angeles Home Built Two Feet from 1923 Silver Lake Cottage

By Hillel Aron

Call it Not-So-Elegant-Density. On Robinson Street in Silver Lake, a short walk from Dusty's Bistro on Sunset Boulevard, Richard Kaye can stand on his rickety balcony, reach out, and touch the massive, ultra-modern house rising next door.

Literally. "I can't even go home anymore," says Kaye, who owns Koda, a hip little sushi restaurant in Silver Lake. "I'm thinking of renting another house."

The fortress-like home is being built at an angle from Kaye's small, L-shaped house, built circa 1923. At their closest point, the houses are a mere two feet away.

How could this be? According to Kaye's lawyer, whiteout was used to trick the L.A. Department of Building and Safety. And the new neighbor is saying Kaye is the guy at fault.

Unlike ritzier parts of Los Angeles, no design reviews are required in Silver Lake. And when the owner building the new house, developer Chong Lee, submitted plans to the Department of Building and Safety, the plans didn't show the actual edge of Kaye's longtime home, a balcony.

In fact, Kaye's lawyer, Kevin McDonnell, says Lee used whiteout to shave off a corner of Kaye's house.

"The approved plans had projections from Mr. Kaye's property that were whited out on the plan," says McDonnell. "He showed me. You could see the whiteout."

Speaking to L.A. Weekly, Lee did not deny he used whiteout on the plans, but said only, "His house was shown in different places."

He added: " I don't know why this is such an issue. Building and Safety is aware of all of this. We have a permit with the city. It's inside our property."

Colin Kumabe, of the Department of Building and Safety, says the department is looking into the dispute.

"Mr. Kaye is making a lot of statements," says Kumabe. "It's not easy to research all of them. We have to check with the City Attorney."

There is no standard distance two houses have to be from each other. Instead, it depends on zoning and fire regulations, which vary depending on where houses are built and what materials they're built with.

Chong Lee is the owner of Unique Construction, which has, according to its website, "built and managed over 2,000 residential apartment and condominium units," not to mention shopping centers, office buildings, hotels, and even a casino in Palm Springs.

Lee says that he built his house up to his property line. Kaye's house, he says, is the one that crosses the line.

Apparently vying for Worst Neighbor in Los Angeles, Lee says Kaye needs to tear down the deck, which he claims is the part of the old house that crosses over the property line.

"I think his balcony is very unsafe," says Lee. "It was built without a permit."

"He's trying to blackmail me into tearing down my deck," Kaye retorts.

Kaye, who bought his house 10 years ago, says his house may very well cross over the property line -- an occurrence so common in California that it's taught in law schools. But, he says, since it was built so long ago, it's grandfathered in.

It looks like it's up to the city to figure this one out.

In other words, don't expect resolution anytime soon.


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