Earlier this week, the Davis City Council unanimously pushed forward the rental housing inspection program. City staff will come back with a specific proposed ordinance. The Sacramento Housing Alliance sent a letter to council this week that, while generally supportive of the program, suggested ways to improve it. Here is the letter they sent to council dated May 17:
Dear Mayor Wolk and Councilmembers:
The Sacramento Housing Alliance (SHA) submits this letter of comment on the City’s proposed options to implement a Rental Housing Inspection Program. SHA is comprised of more than 75 member organizations and individuals that advocate for affordable housing for lower income and homeless individuals in the Greater Sacramento Region. We greatly appreciate the City of Davis consideration of a Rental Housing Inspection Program and encourage you to move forward with Option 1 (One Stop Rental Resource Ordinance to Include an Inspection Program) with revisions that we list below. An effective ordinance that will ensure that 100% of the rental housing stock in the City is healthy and meets basic housing codes must include:
- Mandatory initial City inspections of ALL rental properties;
- A “cost to run program” based fee on all rental units to ensure the program’s viability and sustainability;
- An audit program that requires annual inspections of a portion of any class of rental housing properties that becomes exempt from periodic inspections after the initial round of inspections;
- An annual inspection of all properties that fail initial inspections;
- Inspection of any rental housing property that changes ownership.
We advise that the following revisions be made to the proposed Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance contained in Option I:
- Emergency Contact Information: We agree that all rental units should be required to register with the City that will also provide emergency contact information for those property owners who do not live in the area. However, 60 miles is a long way in an emergency. We recommend that an emergency contact be located within 30 miles of the property to allow for a more timely response to unforeseen emergencies that may arise.
- Implement a fee to cover program costs: The fee should be high enough to ensure financial sustainability of the program so as not to affect other funded programs and activities. We recommend that the fee just for registration and administration of an audit-only program should be a minimum of $12 per unit per year and that the fee be increased beyond that to cover the cost of mandatory inspections. Multi-Family properties should be required to pay on a per unit basis. This will ensure the viability and sustainability of the program over time. The City of Sacramento’s very effective and successful Rental Housing Inspection Program imposed a $28 annual fee on all rental housing units throughout the program’s first five years of operation during which period ALL rental properties were inspected at least once. After five years, the fee decreased to $16 per unit. Only properties that changed ownership and properties that failed previous inspections are inspected subsequent to the first five years. These properties that are inspected are charged a $127 fee for each annual inspection. Thus, while the fee is imposed on each unit, the program rewards through lower fees, the owners that perform adequate maintenance of their properties and chargers higher amounts to those that require subsequent annual inspections.
- Checklist verifying the inspection: The program should require that a landlord provide a signed copy of the approved inspection checklist to the tenant as well as being filed with the City.
- Inspection of Single Family Rental Units: Professionally managed single family rental properties may also operate with some violations so they should not be excluded as is proposed here. There is no law that requires professional property management companies to conduct an annual inspection of rental units under contract. If the City wants to ensure that ALL rental housing meets basic habitability codes, the City must include all rental housing properties in its inspection program. If the City decides to exclude professionally managed properties, there should be at least an AUDIT program where, each year, 10%-20% of randomly selected professionally managed rental units receive inspections. This will help the City figure out whether to revise the policy at a future date to include professionally managed properties, and it also will encourage managers to maintain property adequately. Because they are subject to audit, they should still pay the program fees.
- Multifamily unit inclusion: Multifamily units should be incorporated into the program from the start. The only exclusions should be those that are already regularly inspected (units inspected for health and safety issues by public regulators such as through the City of Davis Affordable Housing program, HCD or TCAC). For larger MF apartment properties, the City may allow the inspector to inspect as little as 10% of units and, if there is reason or cause to suspect violations from the first group of inspections, the inspector, at his/her discretion should have the ability on the spot to inspect more units to ensure that there are no additional health and safety violations.
- Periodic Inspections: “Periodic basis” should be defined from the start (i.e. every three or five years). The City of Sacramento is every five years unless a property passes the first inspection. If it passes this inspection, the owner may self-certify the following five year cycle IF it is the same owner. However, these properties still pay the program fee, albeit at a reduced rate, since there can still be an audit inspection or complaint inspection. Please note that the City staff report is incorrect in that it erroneously states that the City of Sacramento’s program started as a mandatory inspection program and converted to a self-certification program. In fact, the City of Sacramento’s program remains a mandatory inspection program for ALL rental properties. Only properties that pass the first inspection may self-certify. And properties that change ownership are required to undergo a subsequent inspection. The City of Sacramento’s program is NOT a self-certification program. It is a self-supporting program that is supported by fees. The City staff report also incorrectly states that the City of Sacramento program is based on a Rental Housing Association created template. In fact, the City of Sacramento’s inspection program was opposed by the Rental Housing Association and it is not based on a Rental Housing Association template. The City of Sacramento ordinance was written by City staff based on best practices and with input from key stake holders including the Sacramento Housing Alliance, Legal Services of Northern California, the Sacramento Board of Realtors, and the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency. The County of Sacramento has a lesser program that is primarily self-certifying with an audit component. It is ineffective in that thousands of properties are escaping inspection, resulting in unsafe rental housing on the market.
- Access to the property – waiver of inspection: Allowing a tenant to deny access to the inspector, thereby waiving inspection, could allow for owner coercion of a tenant to waive their rights for an inspection. All rental properties should be inspected.
- Further items to consider based on model ordinance/best practices: a. The inspection form and information for both the owner and the tenant explaining the program should be put on the city’s web site.
- The city can require that owners either hire a professional management firm or take a class from the city or a rental housing association or other trainer in management and maintenance of rental housing.
- If violations are found during inspection, owner should be given no longer than 30 days to complete normal repairs or be charged a re-inspection fee for non-compliance.
- Admin and inspection fees should be billed with city services billing.
- Implement a policy that city inspectors are not allowed to inquire into immigration/residency status of renters. Be clear about this policy to owners, tenants and inspectors.
- Implement a policy that is clear about what city inspectors should do if they find evidence of a crime (perhaps victimless crimes like illegal drug possession is ignored, but manufacture of illegal drugs or possession of substantial amount of illegal drugs with suspicion of drugs for sale can be reported). Policy should have a clear protocol on how to address this for owners, other tenants and inspectors.
- Exempt from inspections and inspection fee any housing that is already inspected periodically by a public agency: city affordable housing staff/TCAC/HCD/CDLAC
- If city does not have a relocation ordinance, one should be adopted. The ordinance should say that the city will require payment by the rental housing owner to the city of an amount sufficient to cover relocation costs of any resident temporarily relocated so owner may make repairs or permanently relocated due to closing down property due to inability of owner to make repairs. There could be a minimum per household relocation fee for this purpose which should take into consideration any extra monthly rent costs the resident may need to pay for monthly rent in the market above and beyond what they were paying at their residence that is closed down (For example: the State takes this monthly differential and multiplies it over 36 months for permanent relocation).
- The City should ensure that documents that are available to tenants in multiple languages, but in Spanish at a minimum.
The Sacramento Housing Alliance and our members understand the importance of developing a proactive Rental Housing Inspection Program and will avail ourselves to you, City Staff and others to implement a program that is financially sustainable and works for the City, tenants and owners. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need further explanation or assistance moving forward in developing this ordinance.