Multi-Housing Habitability Inspection Program

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Do you know that the City of Long Beach is seriously considering adopting a new property inspection ordinance? The ordinance would have a material impact on our business practices. First, let’s look at the current policy and practice of the City regarding inspections.

Over the past few decades the City’s policy regarding building inspections of existing rental properties with four or more rental units has been conducted by the Health Department. The City is proposing to shift the inspection authority to the Development Services Department, formalize the process by proposing an ordinance that authorizes the inspection process, and require a new city-wide disclosure statement that would be required to be delivered to all tenants regarding duties and responsibilities. Your leadership team knows how important this issue is to all property owners and managers. The foregoing is what we have learned about the proposal:

Genesis/Purpose of the Bill:

The City of Long Beach is proposing to expand and validate its rental housing inspection program to require additional fees and fines on properties of four or more units. Annual fees will be required to be paid. Re-inspections would be required to be made where any code violation is noted. Penalties will be assessed against code violators, potentially including losing the ability to claim income tax deductions. A new disclosure statement would be delivered to the tenant which would address important duties and responsibilities of property owners and residents.

Our Concerns:

AACSC is generally not opposed to a reasonably structured and well-administered housing inspection program that identifies and obtains needed code compliance on properties that have serious code violations. The ordinance as drafted, however, is of great concern to rental property owners. The scope and depth of how it treats responsible property owners that may not have any code violations or have small or innocuous code issues is unacceptable. The following are some initial responses of AACSC:

• Vagueness. The proposed ordinance does not satisfactorily address the following four important issues:

(1) Why compliant properties are subject to inspection?

(2) Why the City does not target slumlords and other properties that substantially endanger the health and welfare of residents and the public?

(3) Why code violations are not focused on immediate health and safety issues or where violations are due to habitual neglect of customary maintenance.

(4) Why the program costs, including the registration fee, inspection fee and fine schedule, are not identified and included in the annual business license tax.

• Necessity of the program. According to our meetings with City staff, only a minute number of property owners in the entire Long Beach area have been identified as problematic with respect to serious habitability and code violations. If these reports are correct, it seems the City is currently doing a good job of enforcing its codes. And vice versa, rental property owners overall are maintaining their properties well and are very responsive to the needs and desires of tenants. Expansion of the program may not be called for.

• Yearly registration fees. To the extent fees are necessary, those fees should be limited to actual costs of an inspection, actual costs of re-inspection and costs residents should pay for damage to their unit or denial of access to the property.

• The disclosure statement will materially affect the rental of property. No other city in the state requires a disclosure statement regarding property owners and resident duties and responsibilities. The documents should materially improve the rental of property to be a useful document. It may be appropriate to place a sunset clause on the mandate to deliver the disclosure statements.

• Rental property owners have a duty to keep their properties properly maintained and habitable. Owners are required to fix things when broken and address tenant complaints. Failure to respond in a timely manner does have serious consequences for owners. Often missing in the equation, however, are the tenants’ duties and responsibilities. Tenants should be cited, too. Tenants must maintain their unit and are not entitled to damage their unit or let garbage collect. Property owners observe that they have been cited for violations caused by tenants. This issue is missing from the equation and must be addressed in future discussions with City staff.

• Major vs. minor violation. The proposal is silent as to what kinds of housing issues will be inspected. To that end, unspecified inspections lack meaningful standards and productive outcomes and could result in over regulation and unnecessary penalization of rental property owners. At the very least, any inspection program should be enacted with provisions to distinguish between major and minor violations with varying penalties and remedies depending upon the situation. In a broader view, inspections should focus on substantial breaches of habitability and tenants should be held accountable for damage they cause.

• Concerns of owners and residents. Tenants posit that owners threaten or intimidate. State law specifically speaks to this matter. AACSC has successfully sponsored anti-harassment legislation including a prohibition upon landlords to inquire about a person’s immigration status. Tenants state that landlords demand unnecessary access to units (see Civil Code Section 1954). Tenants can anonymously call the City and report code violations AND there is always a tenant’s option to repair and deduct from rent. It would seem that tenants are hardly at the mercy of legitimate business persons a.k.a. landlords.

Your AACSC Board of Directors are committed to staying on top of this issue and others as they develop in Long Beach and the 53 other cities represented by the Apartment Association, California Southern Cities. I look forward to meeting you and hearing your concerns.

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Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

California Southern Cities
333 W. Broadway St., Suite 101
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 426-8341

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