Housing Blight

Living in misery? Madera’s new inspection program would target substandard rentals

Black mold grows on the ceiling above the shower at an apartment at 2061 S. Hayston Avenue on Sunday, February 7, 2016 in southeast Fresno.
Black mold grows on the ceiling above the shower at an apartment at 2061 S. Hayston Avenue on Sunday, February 7, 2016 in southeast Fresno. sflores@fresnobee.com

The city of Madera is trying to revive a rental inspection ordinance that got shelved for a decade due to the recession.

But Madera Realtors oppose the plan, claiming that it is a violation of tenant and property rights.

The proposed ordinance is similar to a program approved by the Fresno City Council earlier this year to hold landlords accountable for rental units that are unsafe and unhealthy. The Madera plan would include a registry but no registration fee, a three-year inspection cycle and an opportunity for self-certification.

“What we can tell is that the (housing) problems are increasing rather than decreasing,” said Steve Montes, a Madera neighborhood preservation specialist who does code enforcement. “We are enforcing, but  we’re not having as big an impact as we want.”

What we can tell is that the (housing) problems are increasing rather than decreasing.

Steve Montes, Madera neighborhood preservation specialist

The city has known since the early 2000s that its rental housing stock is in need of repair. Between 2003 and 2004, the Madera Redevelopment Agency received a $2 million state grant to fix substandard apartments. According to a 2003 study, 2,469 units were in need of rehabilitation and 50 were dilapidated but still occupied, Montes said.

“We had a mess out there,” said Jim Taubert, executive director of the agency now known as the Successor Agency. “We were able to do  142 rehab projects with that money, but it was a drop in the bucket compared with what the need was.”

An outside consultant determined in a 2009 study that about 2,700 units – 17 percent of the total – needed substantial rehabilitation, Taubert said.

“It was a Summerset waiting to happen,” Taubert said, referring to the central Fresno apartment complex that went without heat and hot water for weeks in the fall of 2015. Summerset sparked a campaign to fix substandard housing conditions in Fresno, and it led The Bee to highlight Fresno’s problems in a special report called “Living in Misery.”

Like Fresno, the city of Madera doesn’t know exactly how many rental units are in need of repair. But with the recession over and new city leadership in place, it was time to pick up the pace on housing rehabilitation, Taubert and Montes said.

The agency and members of the Madera Association of Realtors have worked for more than a year on the ordinance. The draft plan was discussed during a workshop at the agency’s May 10 meeting and will be considered for adoption at the June 7 council meeting.

The ordinance has three basic steps: registration, inspection and enforcement. The agency got rid of an initial registration fee after complaints from stakeholders, Taubert said.

Once the ordinance is approved, inspections would start with properties built in 1970 or earlier. Taubert said the total rental housing stock is 8,500, including single-family homes that also would be subject to inspections.

We’ve crafted a program that should not be a threat to anybody other than a substandard property owner.

Jim Taubert, executive director of Madera Successor Agency

Landlords can qualify for self-certification if an inspector determines no violations exist on the property or if problems are fixed within 30 days and a landlord is not late on paying city fees, penalties or taxes. The city will inspect a random 10 percent of the self-certified units to make sure properties are compliant.

“We’ve crafted a program that should not be a threat to anybody other than a substandard property owner,” Taubert said.

But Realtors don’t feel so confident. The proposed ordinance creates a lot of administrative burdens on landlords and property managers and tramples on privacy rights, said George Harper, chairman of the Realtors’ committee and owner of Madera Management Company. Tenants might have to pay higher rents, and many of them wouldn’t want the government snooping around their homes, Harper said.

“Tenants, property owners and real estate agents don’t like it,” Harper said. “People who invest won’t want to come to Madera because there’s an ordinance. Our local real estate agents lose out, then values go down.”

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee

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