Unlike many other communities, Davis lacks a rental ordinance. As a result, as staff notes, “some residential rental units in Davis are substandard, overcrowded, and/or non-compliant with State and local laws. These substandard conditions can render the rental housing unit unfit or unsafe for human occupancy.”
Beginning in 2014, Councilmember Brett Lee requested staff review rental property resources offered by the city and develop a plan to address renter and property management issues.
Back in May, the council listened to a diverse group of people (students, renters, landlords, neighborhood reps, and activists) discuss problems with the lack of a renter’s ordinance in Davis. The council at that time chose to ask staff to develop “a one-stop rental resource ordinance to include an inspection program.”
The council also included developing a resources website; assistance from ASUCD with updating the model lease; a requirement for all rental units to be registered with the city; emergency contact information for a local contact within 60 miles of Davis with full authority to act on behalf of the owner; and a new fee that would cover, among other things, mediation services.
Councilmember Lee along with Councilmember Lucas Frerichs created a focus group of stakeholders to discuss options. Staff worked with the subcommittee, along with the city attorney, to develop an ordinance they hope will strike the balance between “the needs and concerns of renters, property owners and managers and neighbors of rental properties.”
The Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley has issued a vote of support for the ordinance as written, according to the staff report.
Among other things, the ordinance would implement a Rental Education, Registration and Inspection Program “to ensure that rental housing in Davis is maintained and meets minimum building, housing, fire and nuisance standards and is safe to occupy.”
The intention here is “to preserve and enhance the quality of life for residents living in rental housing, as well as the neighborhoods in which they reside. With this program, the City intends to abate on-going nuisances and gain compliance with State and local laws relative to rental properties to improve resident satisfaction in their housing and in the neighborhood which they reside.”
The first step will be a more comprehensive rental resources program. Many other college towns already have rental regulations in place varying from registration to annual inspection. The proposed ordinance in Davis would target education and registration and also contain an inspection component.
The educational component would include a renter resource website for both landlords and tenants, mediation services, and information for tenants about their rights and responsibilities.
The ordinance would require all rental properties, including single-family homes, to register with the city and provide a local contact (within 35 miles of the city). At move-in, an inspection of the property would be performed by the agent and tenant on an approved city form.
There would be a fee associated with this service. For single-family homes, the fee would be $15 per year. For multi-family homes it would vary, depending on size, from $20 to $100. This would be on a graduated scale ranging from 3 units to 50 units, and would be a total amount, not a per unit charge.
Single-family units will also be required to participate in “an inspection program to ensure they are safe and habitable.” The plan is to provide inspection for only a small sample of single-family rental properties in a given year. Multi-family properties have not been included in the inspection program at this time.
Staff believes that there are already sufficient regulations in place for multi-family properties. They were designed and built for their current function, unlike single-family homes.
Staff notes that multi-family properties over 16 units already require an onsite contact/manager to manage the property and provide unit maintenance with an onsite emergency contact. In addition, multi-family properties can better accommodate tenant needs such as parking.
Inspections of single-family homes could occur on a periodic basis, with random audits, particularly if a complaint is received. The city would then conduct a random compliance audit to determine if all required documents and fees have been complete.
The city would verify that the property has no record of outstanding code violations. “In the event the City determines that an Owner is not in compliance with any of these items as a result of a random compliance audit, the rental unit shall be inspected by the City.”
In addition, the city would be authorized to conduct an inspection of rental properties at any time deemed necessary. The building inspector would be responsible for inspecting both interior and exterior conditions, focusing on the identification of “substandard conditions that do not meet minimum standards as established by state and local laws.”
The ordinance also includes provisions on retaliatory eviction, relocation procedures if necessary, and problem properties.
While some believe that the fees would simply be passed on to the renters, the fees are at such a level those costs will be minimal.
At the meeting last May, for instance, Councilmember Brett Lee scoffed at the notion that fees would be “burdensome” and be passed onto the renters. He pointed out even a $100 fee, to a landlord with 100 units, being passed on to the renters amounts to a dollar per year apiece. “So go ahead, raise the rent,” he said. “It will be 20 cents per unit, a month. I think any renter in Davis would be willing to pay the twenty cents to have access to mediation services…”
He noted that “most of the actors are good actors,” “most of the rental housing is in good condition,” which leads people to question the need for inspection. Councilmember Lee argued, “The city needs a presumptive right to inspect,” he said. That allows the city to avoid having to go to Yolo County “and show probable cause.” He said, “This is a burdensome thing to have to do when many of us know that there’s an issue.”
He said that the reason the fees are low “is that we don’t want to just do blanket inspections, we want to really have the threat of inspection… there so that most of the actors will continue to be good actors, some of the people on the fence will actually invest in their properties and bring them up to standards and, for the people who don’t, there will be fines that will help cover the inspection costs.
“The idea is not to charge everybody a large chunk of money to subsidize the bad actors,” he said. “The good actors don’t want to be penalized – they’re doing a good job… I agree, we should focus on the bad actors.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting