Improving the Davis Rental Housing Inspection Program

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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24 Comments

  1. Barack Palin

    It looks like we might be creating yet another money sucking government bureaucracy.  Mandatory first year inspections, random inspections after that, relocation fees for displaced renters, required rental owner classes, billing fees, this fee, that fee………

    How far will the inspection process go?  Just major problems, like rat infested or broken heating system, or will it go farther into more minor issues?

    Will building code violations be included in the inspections?  If a place is habitable except that the inspecter notices that a wall has been added that wasn’t permitted.   Will that place then be shut down and the renters relocated at owner cost until the wall can be removed and pass city codes?

    The reprecussions of this program could be very expensive and far reaching.

    1. David Greenwald

      The only thing I would say is hold your horses until the city’s policy comes out, I think it’s going to be complaint based though I can certainly understand the perspective of SHA.

      1. Mark West

        When I was a student at Berkeley back at the dawn of time, the house I lived in was subject to an annual safety inspection by the Fire Department, much akin to the annual inspections my business received here in Davis. The simplest way forward would be to extend the current business inspection program to include all rental housing, and carry out those inspections using our current fire department employees, as we do with other businesses. Rental housing is a business after all. Other businesses in town are required to have a business license and pay annual fees to the City, and new businesses are subject to a City inspection to address zoning issues.  We don’t need to create a new agency or expand the City’s bureaucracy, we just need to include rental housing in our existing business management programs.

        The best way to deal with the imbalance of power between the landlords and their tenants is to raise the vacancy rate up to 5% or so. Landlords lose their power when tenants have realistic options.

        1. South of Davis

          Mark wrote:

          > When I was a student at Berkeley back at the dawn of time,

          > the house I lived in was subject to an annual safety inspection

          > by the Fire Department,

          The Davis Fire Department has inspected all Davis rental “apartments” once a year for at least 50 years.

          The Davis Fire Department will also inspect potential fire hazards at rental “homes” if anyone calls them (they found a pot grow house after a friend called about some scary looking not to code wiring on a shed at the rental home behind his fence).

  2. nameless

    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.

    And what if the tenant does not want the property inspected?  How do you get around the tenant’s 4th Amendment rights against unreasonable searches?

        1. Matt Williams

          I would like to hear what Bob Dunning and Donna Lemongello have to say about random inspections.  Their respective objections to CBFR centered on (amongst other things) the fact that a current tenant would be held accountable for the water use of the prior tenant … without recourse.

          I suspect that random inspections fall into that same “accountability without recourse” model.  For example the random inspection of an apartment is going to be very directly affected by the cleanliness and life style of the tenants, but the inspector will not be holding those tenants accountable for the inspection results.  The inspector will be holding the landlord accountable for the tenants actions and behavior … without recourse.

        2. South of Davis

          The Pulgist wrote:

          > I don’t think the council is going to go that direction –

          > for starters it would require a lot more than the $25 per to fund it.

          With the average home inspection over $500 in California it would cost WAY over $25..

          https://www.angieslist.com/articles/how-much-does-home-inspection-cost.htm

          Someone posted a while back that there were about 15,000 rental units in town.  At $500 per inspection that is $7.5 MILLION dollars to inspect them all (plus a couple million more to keep inspection them and pay for staff, office space cars and fund multiple pensions and pay the increasing cost of health care)…

  3. Michael Harrington

    This proposal is a completely unwarranted invasion of peoples homes and privacy

    it will need 8-10 employees to staff it, plus field inspectors

      1. South of Davis

        The Pulgist wrote:

        > if a landlord refuses to replace a window, fix the heater,

        > fix electrical wiring, how is that unwarranted?

        If a Davis Landlord won’t replace a broken window, broken heater or fix dangerous wiring you can just hire Anderson Glass, Blake’s HVAC or Knight Works Electrical to fix the problem and take the cost out of the next months rent.

        http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/california-tenant-rights-withhold-rent-repair-deduct.html

         

         

        1. Matt Williams

          BP, what you have described may end up being true, but the big difference will be that the recommendation to do so will be in the public record, providing the tenant with a legal corroboration of both the existence of the problem and the correctness of the tenant’s action.

  4. Yes on A Fan

    I almost think this article about renters rights and the zero vacancy rate could have been just an extension of the other article where you talked about the No on A sign program and participants.  The No on A “Unaffordable” moniker has taken on a whole new meaning- ironic. Throw it in with the “prevailing wind phenomenon” and how Richards will fix itself.

    1. Eileen Samitz

      Yes on A Fan,

      I really wish I understood what you are trying to say here. But since I can’t, let’s just stay that you are a little “windy” here to say the least, yourself.

  5. hpierce

    Couldn’t find any reference as to how mobilehome units would be treated if the trailer itself contained renters.  Anyone now how Sacto handles those?

  6. Matt Williams

    hpierce
    May 22, 2016 at 11:03 am
    “Better watch out on the rental housing ordinance… those inspections might mean the razing of Slater’s Court and environs…  just saying…”

    hpierce’s observation from another thread illuminates one of the unintended consequences of inspections … regardless of whether they are annual or random.

      1. South of Davis

        Matt wrote:

        > hpierce’s observation from another thread illuminates one of

        > the unintended consequences of inspections … regardless of

        > whether they are annual or random.

        Just like estate taxes “force” a lot of cash poor farming families to sell to rich developers (or rich farmers), giving the long time cash poor Davis owner of a modest low rent apartment or low rent mobile home a long list of expensive repairs will “force” most of them to sell to a rich developer or rich apartment guy (both who will kick out the poor long term tenants,  sink a lot of cash in to the property and rent to rich students)…

  7. tribeUSA

    I don’t see the need for a new beauracracy for mandatory inspections, and the huge cost of this.

    Why not a complaint-based system? Perhaps a couple of staff that could advise tenants on tenants rights and recourse when there is a landlord-tenant dispute. For example, if needed repairs (broken plumbing or electrical, leaky roof etc.) are not done in a timely fashion, how to go about getting the repairs done yourself and to ensure that you can deduct the cost from your rent, as in one of the posts above.

    1. nameless

      Complaint based program is the only way to get around the 4th amendment issue in so far as I can tell.  Even then, the complaint would have to come from the tenant.  If a neighbor complained, and the tenant (and landlord) refused entry, I don’t see how the city can demand entry without violating the 4th amendment.  However, tenants have the right to a habitable residence, and can stop paying rent until the place is made habitable.  If the landlord starts eviction proceedings, the matter will go before a judge.  If the tenant can prove the residence is uninhabitable, the judge will order the landlord to make repairs until the place is habitable, and allow the tenant to remain and not pay rent until the court order is carried out.  The only tricky part for the tenant is making sure that whatever repairs are necessary truly make the place uninhabitable.  From: http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/legal_guides/lt-8.shtml

      “California Civil Code section 1941 states that when a landlord rents property to a tenant as a place to live, the property must be in a “habitable” condition. (“Habitable” means fit to live in; “uninhabitable” means not fit to live in.) Section 1941 also states that the landlord must repair problems that make the property uninhabitable – except for problems caused by the tenant or the tenant’s guests, children or pets. In order for the property to be habitable, it must have all of the following:

      a) Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
      b) Plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system.
      c) Gas facilities in good working order.
      d) Heating facilities in good working order.
      e) An electrical system, including lighting, wiring and equipment, in good working order.
      f) Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds and appurtenances (for example, a garden or a detached garage) which are free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.
      g) Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
      h) Floors, stairways and railings in good repair.
      In addition, the rented property must have all of the following:
      i) A working toilet, wash basin, and bathtub or shower. The toilet and bathtub/shower must be in a room that is ventilated, and that allows for privacy.
      j) A kitchen with a sink, which cannot be made of an absorbent material (for example, wood).
      k) Natural lighting in every room through windows or skylights. Unless there is a ventilation fan, the windows must be able to open at least halfway.
      l) Safe fire or emergency exits leading to a street or hallway. Stairs, hallways and exits must be kept litter free. Storage areas, garages, and basements must be kept free of combustible materials.
      m) Operable deadbolt locks on the main entry doors of rental units, and operable locking or security devices on windows.
      n) Working smoke detectors in all units of multi-unit buildings, such as duplexes and apartment complexes. Apartment complexes also must have smoke detectors in common stairwells.”

  8. quielo

    The only way i can see this working is to incent tenants and prospective tenants to rat out landlords.  They don’t have much reason to do so currently. If UC Davis or City of Davis had subsidized housing available and gave priority entrance to “good citizens” it would make life much more interesting for bad actor landlords.

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