The forces that want to retain the status quo of slumlords operating as they please are mighty in Fresno.
There are the slumlords themselves, who prey on the weak and the vulnerable and cash in big by renting unsafe and unsanitary quarters.
And then there are other landlords who let a few things go, but eventually get around to making things right.
We imagine that these rental property owners often cast an envious eye at the slumlords and wonder why they bother to fix anything at all.
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And then you have the responsible owners whose business model depends on keeping everything sparkling and in tip-top shape. The owners of these properties learned a long time ago that the best apartments in the best parts of Fresno command the highest rents.
Three types of owners dealing with many different types of clients.
Yet it appears that nearly all of the rental owners are opposed to mandatory interior apartment inspections proposed by Mayor Ashley Swearengin and social-justice activists as part of an effort to clamp down on slumlords.
Many of the preyed-upon renters are immigrants. Some of them are young families. Some of them are seniors. All should have an opportunity to live in housing where the water heater works, the cooler does its job in summer, and mold isn’t growing in every corner.
No one should live in the Third World conditions discovered at the Summerset Village Apartments last year and later documented elsewhere by a team of Bee reporters in the “Living in Misery” investigative series.
Many communities have inspection programs. They are successful, and they don’t take bread off the table of the poor. Nor do they put responsible rental owners out of business.
“There are cities all over the state and country who have successfully implemented programs like this for years with very positive results,” says Leticia Valencia of Faith in Community. “A proactive system actively protects the basic health and safety standards for tenants, without them having to face the risk of retaliation that our current reactive and complaints-based system so often causes.
“The (Code Enforcement) Task Force has had enough time, research and everything it needs to act. The time is now to bring a proposal forward and have it implemented and enforced swiftly, vigorously and fairly, for the sake of our tenants and our city. Enough is enough.”
But, in Fresno, the way opponents tell it, inspections will cause the sky to crash. These are the protests of people who want to keep things as they are – regardless of the suffering and misery endemic to rental housing in many parts of Fresno.
Others oppose inspections as part of a conservative agenda. Among them is Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau.
Though he isn’t on the task force, Brandau attended last week’s meeting. Here is one of the things he told landlords: “I want you to know you do have advocates on the council. We’re not going to let some hyper-progressive (expletive) policy take over the city of Fresno, but we need your help.”
Memo to the councilman: Interior inspections aren’t “hyper-progressive.” Rather, they are routine in cities that look out for landlords and renters without favor to either. Where are some of the cities? Sacramento, Santa Ana, Long Beach, Anaheim, Visalia, Pasadena, Santa Cruz. The list goes on and on.
We’re not surprised by the glacial advance of the effort to inspect apartments. For more than a century, one of Fresno’s greatest shames has been its blind eye to slumlords. They have benefited handsomely from lax or nonexistent code enforcement. And they won’t surrender a nickel of their filthy riches or change their predatory practices without a drawn-out fight.
Shame on these property owners who see the poor as people to exploit. Shame on leaders who carry their water and justify such service by portraying themselves as foot soldiers in the political struggle between left and right.
There is nothing political about standing up for those who fear losing their apartment if they complain about what’s broken or what’s making their children sick.
Brandau wrote in a Bee commentary last month, “Unfortunately the mayor and anti-landlord activists want to swat a fly with a sledgehammer.”
It’s time for the mayor to respond to the opponents of interior inspections with the sledgehammer created in 2013 by Assembly Bill 2314. This law enables local governments to impose fines of up to $1,000 a day for code violations that are not corrected after 30 days.
A thousand bucks a day for an ignored leaky toilet? Now, that’s hyper-progressive.