With just four weeks left in her term, Mayor Ashley Swearengin is ready to unveil her long-awaited rental housing inspection program.
The proposed ordinance includes an annual rental property registry, a three-year inspection cycle and an opportunity for self-certification. Registration and inspection fees are yet to be determined. Properties that comply could receive a business tax rebate.
But what’s missing, according to at least one Fresno tenant advocacy group, is an initial citywide inspection of rental housing to determine the true state of rental living conditions.
Swearengin said she expects comments and suggested changes to the proposal from both sides of the table.
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“There are strong opinions that (the plan) doesn’t go far enough,” Swearengin said. “That’s certainly an issue that I expect will be debated.”
The ordinance, which will be introduced at the Dec. 8 Fresno City Council meeting, was the result of nearly a year and a half of what Swearengin calls “healthy and difficult public policymaking.” Input from landlord and tenant organizations was taken, statewide and nationwide inspection programs were studied and the city consulted with national experts.
“I’m pleased to get to this point,” Swearengin said. “I think it represents not only No. 1, a comprehensive approach, but No. 2, an implementable approach. My concern has been if we are going to move forward (with a plan) it has to be one that can be implemented well.”
Swearengin’s administration has looked for ways to hold landlords accountable for rental units that are unsafe and unhealthy since last November, when 1,000 tenants at the Summerset Village Apartments in central Fresno went without heat and hot water for weeks.
There are strong opinions that (the plan) doesn’t go far enough. That’s certainly an issue that I expect will be debated.
Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin
In January, City Manager Bruce Rudd created the Strike Team on Problem Properties to target properties the city deemed the worst offenders.
In May, The Bee highlighted Fresno’s problems of substandard housing in a special report called “Living in Misery.” It found that units all over the city are unlivable while landlords go without penalty due to the city’s lack of oversight.
Just last month, the City Council approved a resolution authored by Councilmen Clint Olivier and Steve Brandau to create an Anti-Slumlord Enforcement Team and to add a landlord-tenant ombudsman to review complaints and tell landlords to fix violations. ASET would build on Rudd’s team and attack the most egregious properties.
The mayor’s proposed interior inspection program would monitor and ensure that state health and safety standards are being met. Swearengin’s proposal starts with a rental property registry. All rentals, whether they are a house, duplex, triplex or multifamily building, must register. An inspection fee would be established once a contract is awarded to an inspection service provider. The amount can be credited back to the landlord as a rebate on business taxes, Swearengin said.
“The registration is the important big push,” she said. “There’s a lot of work going into identifying and getting folks registered and then from there, as proposed, people can apply for self-certification or be subject to routine inspection as required by the city.”
Under the plan, a random number of rental properties would be inspected throughout the year. Landlords who meet certain requirements can apply for self-certification. A random 10 percent of self-certified properties will be inspected each year.
Properties that pass the first inspection, or a reinspection, would not have to be reviewed for another three years. Those that fail two consecutive checks will be checked annually for the next three years. The inspection fee is not set yet, but would not exceed $100 per unit.
Leaders at the Fresno nonprofit Faith in Community said they’re excited the mayor is presenting an inspection program before the end of her term. “We’re looking forward to working with her to make this happen for the city,” said Leticia Valencia, community organizer.
But the organization has some suggestions for the mayor, including an initial inspection of all rental properties.
Unless we have a real inventory of what the housing crisis truly looks like, we’re not going to be able to address it.
Leticia Valencia, Faith in Community organizer
“Unless we have a real inventory of what the housing crisis truly looks like, we’re not going to be able to address it,” Valencia said. “It’s been a year since Summerset. The winter is here. It’s freezing and we’ve continued to be in places where heaters are not working or there are none at all. There are plenty of other Summersets in our city that need to be found and addressed.”
The California Apartment Association of Greater Fresno has committed to working with the mayor to address substandard housing. Spokesman Greg Terzakis said the group has supported most of the mayor’s housing ordinances and wants to make sure the inspection program proposal is done right.
“We need a little more time to take a look at the proposal,” Terzakis said. “There are some things we’re going to have issues with. I believe the mayor is acting in good faith to address the issue. We want to work with her to the degree we can to reach the same goal.”