Written by The Business Journal Staff
Piggy-backing on a proposal brought before the Fresno City Council in December 2016 by former Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Brand said he has been diligently working on changes to his predecessor’s program to aid tenants who fall victim to unresponsive or unhelpful landlords without using a shotgun approach that unfairly impacts responsible landlords.
Brand presented his plan, tentatively scheduled to go before the city council on Feb. 2, to the Government Affairs Council (GAC) Jan. 11 at the Fresno Chamber of Commerce.
The plan calls for a systematic approach that addresses the most grievous rental properties the city is aware of first, followed by inspections of all apartment complex parcels, then single-family rental homes.
As part of the plan, rental property owners will be required to register their complexes and homes. Once inspected, each property will be classified accordingly. Those that pass inspection will be able to self-certify yearly, with audits performed every 10 years, while properties that don’t pass will be divided into two categories — those with a few problems and those with the most severe conditions. Properties in both lower categories would be subject to annual inspection until they can consistently pass inspection.
A fourth distinction would list properties exempt from inspection. These properties include new construction less than 10 years old, tax-credited affordable housing projects already subject to a rigorous inspection programs, mobile home parks, and hotels/motels.
With 85,000 rental units and 35,000 single-family homes for rent in Fresno, Brand said he estimates the initial inspections would take two years, but the step is necessary to establish a baseline that identifies how pervasive substandard housing is in Fresno.
“Nobody knows exactly what number or percentage is substandard,” Brand said. “In my opinion, it is probably between 10 and 20 percent, but I’ve heard some say its 50 or 60 percent. There is only one way to find out.”
The inspections, Brand clarified, would be done to just a sampling or percentage of units at any given parcel, or a certain number of houses owned by an individual landlord, unless a significant portion of those samples fail. This, he said, remedies the concern over tenants turning away inspectors, as inspectors can instead move on to another unit. Should all units need to be inspected, Brand said 24-hour notice would be provided to tenants so they can plan accordingly.
To conduct the inspections, the city would hire 10 temporary code enforcement officers. After the baseline is established, Brand said, the city will know how many code officers will be needed to continue routine inspections. These officers would be a “proactive” complement to a “reactive” component, the Asset Management Act, which will set up a group of code enforcement officers and city attorneys able to respond reactively as problems are reported. The Asset Management Act was approved by the city council last month.
As of Jan. 11, Brand said he was still in talks with the Fresno chapter of the California Apartment Association, and advocates Patience Milrod and Andy Levine. He said the apartment association is on board and his main task is determining what will be included in the inspection process. There are many elements advocates would like to include, but Brand said his plan is to determine the essential health and safety concerns that must be met.
“The goal is to find an efficient way to go through and know what to look for, so we’re establishing a defined list, and this is where I need to bring together two sides,” Brand said. “We want to make sure we have a basic health and safety checklist, examining things like heating, cooling and plumbing. In other words, we’re not looking at anything cosmetic like a chip on the counter or a torn screen door.”