The city of Fresno is going after landlords with chronic health and safety violations at their rental properties – including doubling the fines that can be levied on them for failing to fix the problems.
On a 6-0 vote Thursday, the council’s action is yet another step taken over the past year to crack down on substandard housing in the wake of problems brought to light by The Fresno Bee’s “Living in Misery” series and highly publicized problems at the Summerset Village apartments in east-central Fresno.
“We’re finally putting some teeth into some of these ordinances and making them very effective,” City Council President Paul Caprioglio said.
The ordinance was introduced as as an emergency measure and takes effect immediately. Typically, ordinances are introduced, get a first reading to the City Council, and a second reading and vote for adoption a week or more later, with the changes taking effect 30 days after approval.
Councilman Clint Olivier said he supported the ordinance changes proposed by City Manager Bruce Rudd, but was uneasy about doing so as an emergency ordinance. Olivier abstained from voting on the ordinance rather than cast either a “yes” or “no” vote.
“I support this 100 percent,” Olivier said. “I think it will be an invaluable tool the city can use to crack down on slumlords.”
But, Olivier added, he preferred to follow the normal ordinance process because it provides “time for us and for the public to understand and digest what the city is doing.”
Rudd said he was seeking the emergency approval because as he’s walked through some problem properties, “I’ve seen conditions that are deplorable and something no one should have to deal with,” including apartments with no heat except for an open oven in the kitchen, or holes in roofs that cause structural problems. With winter approaching, Rudd said, it was imperative to put the new rules in place sooner rather than later.
The ordinance repeals a $1,000 cap on fines contained in the Fresno Municipal Code, and also creates a new rule to double the fines for landlords deemed “egregious violators” – owners who have three cases of Building Code or Health and Safety Code violations at any properties they own within the city in a 12-month period.
A second step, coming to the City Council on Nov. 3, is a set of proposed revisions to the city’s master fee schedule to dramatically increase the fines that can be levied against the owners of rental properties if they fail to fix violations noted in code-inspection citations.
If those changes are approved by the council, fines for landlords who ignore health and safety citations would rise to $800 for a first notice, $1,200 for a second notice and $1,600 for a third notice.
Under the city’s current process, if code enforcement inspectors find deficiencies, the owner can be cited and is given 18 days to fix the problems. Fines go from $200 to $500 and $800 if the problem remains unresolved after a third inspection visit.