We just moved into an townhouse in Santa Monica, CA and one of the steps going down to the laundry/garage is angled down 5% as opposed to being completely flat (as the rest of the steps are). It is hard to see visually but you definitely feel it coming up/down the stairs. My wife is pregnant and it feels very unsafe. The manager says it is within code, and does not want to fix the issue (the step is made out of floating floor so I assume the cost to fix would be higher than he'd like).

Is this a common issue? What is the language I should be looking for in building codes that references this issue? Is this something we just have to live with?

Any help is greatly appreciated.

  • 1
    Doubt that you should look in code. Phone/contact local building department/inspection and ask if you can have a step(non private) that is not flat(at an small angle). Somebody spills a bit of oil on step at angle, a fall is more likely compared to a flat step. If within code, could ask manager to glue down some rubber strips, instead of fixing.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 21:42
  • Measure the rise on the steps I think they have to be within 1/8” but it may be 1/4” if one is out that far the lower one is probably less and the upper one more
    – Ed Beal
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 21:59
  • Are there more than 2 units in your building?
    – Lee Sam
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:11
  • Thanks, Found this in CA Buildings Code (adopted by my city): 1011.7.1 Stairway Walking Surface The walking surface of treads and landings of a stairway shall not be sloped steeper than one unit vertical in 48 units horizontal (2-percent slope) in any direction. up.codes/viewer/california/ibc-2018/chapter/10/… There are 7 townhouses in the building.
    – abaker
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 22:27
  • @abaker - the problem with most building codes is that it usually applies to when building was built or when that specific component was changed. For most things there are not people going out and reinforcing every building to meet new standards. However stairs are a pretty gray area. If I were an inspector I would test out stairs... if they felt safe I would ignore, if I had an issue I would figure out if there was something I could enforce. An inspector can't just flag something he isn't allowed to. If he does manager sues city or at least complains and gets his way.
    – DMoore
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 23:05

2 Answers 2


If there are more than 2 units in your building, you are dealing with Section 1009 of the International Building Code. (I’d call your local Building Permit Office to insure they adopted this Code.)

Section 1009.5.1 says, “The walking surface of treads and landings of a stairway shall not be sloped steeper than one unit in 48 units horizontally (2%) in any direction. Stairway treads and landings shall have a solid surface.”

I’d caution you on requiring the owner to fix the step, “or else”, because they could close the stairway as “unsafe”.

They need to provide an access to the parking garage, but it doesn’t have to be convenient. They could make you exit the building and walk around the building and enter the garage through the car drive in area.

  • Seems like OP would be better to ask manager nicely to glue down rubber strips, if step is over(or under) 2%. Keeping wife happy is main point.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 23:01
  • @crip659 - couple strips then a solid covering certainly seems like a good compromise!
    – DMoore
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 23:06
  • @DMoore Keep wife and manager happy and OP can be happy.
    – crip659
    Commented Mar 10, 2021 at 23:20
  • Absolutely. Main goal is to have the step level, don't really care aesthetically what the solution is. Would love a simple solution (like strips/covering) over an expensive, tear it out and redo solution.
    – abaker
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 0:19
  • Also, had a typo. The step is actually 5 degrees sloped, so actually 8% (I think that is the correct conversion).
    – abaker
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 0:20

The only way to answer this is file a complaint with the local inspector for a safety hazard and have them come check it out. There is no way stairs are exactly flat and 5% isn't flat but not extremely off.

You have already asked the manager and he told you he has no interest fixing it. The inspector will either enforce the safety violation or OK it. If he OKs it you can tell manager you will pay for it or you can let it go. You just moved in - you should have checked this out prior to.

Just FWIW - I have managed many properties. There are some people that would email me with suggestions and things I should do daily or weekly I kid you not. The more you respond to them, the more they ask for. They act like a house is a website you can just add stuff to. Your manager may think you fall into that category. My life is much easier now because everyone gets one of four responses.

1 - if it is broken or not code "I will fix it"

2 - if it is something small and no risk - "you can fix it at your cost" or "you can do it and I will reimburse materials up to $XX"

3 - "you can have a contractor do it and pay for it"

4 - "you cannot do it"

Maybe I need to feel the 5% slope (I have a step at my house that must be close to this) but yours would be in category 3. If an inspector came out and told me to fix it, I would. I wouldn't be mad, I would just fix it and also set expectation that for gray areas someone will tell me something isn't code on an official level.

  • Yes, not trying to be an annoying tenant. I'm fairly handy and will fix most everything myself. (Even put in laminate flooring in a friend's apt last week.) Issue here is the bullnose is not available in the same color, so the risk of breaking the existing bullnose when it gets removed is more than I'd be comfortable with.
    – abaker
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 0:41
  • And yes, the 5 degree/8% slope seems small until you actually feel it. Spoke to an inspector at the city's building office and the way he explained it is that it feels like it is "launching" you.
    – abaker
    Commented Mar 11, 2021 at 0:42

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