The law firm of Michael E. Berger & Associates may be among the first lawyers to occupy downtown Santa Monica

Thousands of apartments may come to Santa Monica, other wealthy cities under little-known law

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — The law firm of Michael E. Berger & Associates may soon be among the first lawyers to occupy downtown Santa Monica, where hundreds of new apartments are under construction.

The firm, which has more than 35 offices worldwide, has received a letter of intent from the Santa Monica Land Company that is proposing to build more than 400 new apartments on a parcel off West Washington Street. The company has also applied, with a different parcel, for zoning variances to extend the length of some apartment buildings.

There are many more vacant land lots, often on what were parking lots, that can be exploited in the Los Angeles area by investors who will put thousands of additional apartments on or near the existing sites. The new owners will have no intention to provide any public services on the sites.

It is a strategy to make an even bigger profit off the land while leaving the buildings empty. The buildings will have no common areas and be devoid of everything but the apartments.

To find an empty site, you have to know a lot about the land’s history. At the front end, you have to know when the area was built up. If you want to find a spot under construction, you have to know when it was last platted.

And then there are the “vouching” laws, which give landowners and developers the ability to create a separate parcel of their own in the name of the community and then use the land in a different way than the common owner intended.

“There are a lot of places that no one is aware of in Santa Monica,” said Peter M. Cacciatore, a real estate attorney with the firm. “We expect to get a lot of properties in the area that can become very lucrative.”

The real estate firm has been working to persuade some of Santa Monica�

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