November 2, 2006

Los Angeles County Requires Permit for Haunted Houses on Personal Property

By Karen Robes, Press-Telegram, Long Beach, Calif.

Nov. 2--LAKEWOOD -- Did you know that the Los Angeles County Fire Department requires homeowners to outfit their haunted houses with exit signs, alarms and non-flammable materials?

Brandon Zell didn't.

Zell and at least one other Lakewood homeowner were asked to shut down their haunted houses Tuesday because they did not meet the Fire Department's "Halloween Haunted Houses Requirements."

The Long Beach City College student, who spent more than $1,500 to transform his front lawn on McManus Street into a haunted house, said he was told Tuesday by the Fire Department and the city that he would be fined if he did not take down the structure.

"It's your property. I don't get why or how they can control it," said Zell, who has built a haunted house in his front yard for five years.

The Fire Department requires homeowners to get a "Place of Assembly" permit for all haunted houses. To get a permit, homeowners must provide a floor plan showing several safety measures, including the number, location and type of fire extinguishers, exit signs and emergency lighting.

The floor plan must be approved by the jurisdictional Fire Prevention Area Office, and homeowners must undergo an inspection to get a permit.

Long Beach Deputy Fire Marshal Robert Espinosa said Long Beach requires no floor plan and does not think his office has issued a permit or has had anybody apply for a permit for a residential haunted house.

"It's certainly something we can look into," he said.

Before fashioning the structure with strobe lights, fog machines and his own pneumatic animated props, Zell said he called the Lakewood's Planning Department to see if he needed a permit and was told the city required none.

The city has no permit process for haunted houses, said Lakewood spokesman Don Waldie. However, under the Lakewood zoning requirements, the city does not allow residents to set up temporary structures such as canopies and tents with walls in the front yard.

"No one likes to spoil anyone's fun or efforts to make fun, and there are hobbyists out there for whom Halloween is a hobby," Waldie said. "But when those displays become a structure, even if a temporary structure, and when those structures have a potential for injury or death -- when those structures have that potential -- the hobbyist needs to be thoughtful and the city and the Fire Department need to be responsive."

The locations were brought to the city's attention earlier this week, and officials saw that they did not meet structural and safety requirements, he said.

"Having fun on Halloween has been a long and safe tradition in Lakewood," Waldie said. "Fire marshals and building inspectors are paid to worry about the worst and are compelled to apply that worry to things like homemade haunted houses. We're not spoilsports at City Hall. We're the people paid to worry about the worst."


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