City Council Tackles Proactive Approach on Rentals in So Pas

So Pas City Council looks at rental inspections, assistance programs to maintain quality residences. Photo by Harry Yadav

The South Pasadena City Council Wednesday night began looking at taking a more proactive role over rental properties that would ensure housing standards are maintained along with a preservation of adequate rental housing within the city limits.

The council looked at a rental housing inspection program for three or more units along with a tenant relocation assistance policy.

The impetus for this more proactive move into the rental housing situation has been several complaints over a period of time regarding problems and challenges with rentals, according to John Pope, the city’s public information officer.

“It’s nothing at a crisis level, but yes, we have been receiving complaints,” Pope said in a telephone interview with The Review. “We are asking the council to explore the possibility of taking a more proactive role.”

The most significant way to rectify the issue of substandard housing in rental units would be to have regular inspections of the apartments, according to city officials. Also, the city is asking the council to create a relocation assistance policy for renters.

A city staff report to the City Council from City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe explains the reasoning behind the inspection request.

“Inspection of rental units is a tool used by many cities to maintain housing standards and preserve rental housing,” states the staff report that was presented to the council Wednesday night. “Inspections ensure the safety, quality, and maintenance of the City’s multi-family housing stock. Similar programs in other cities have been effective in identifying multi-family properties that suffer from neglected maintenance and safety issues. Staff is presenting a draft concept for a new program for the inspection of multi-family buildings of three or more units and is requesting direction from Council to proceed with community outreach prior to drafting an ordinance for review.”

The report goes on to state that about 50 percent of housing is multi-family homes and of those, nearly three-quarters were built before 1970 and almost one-third were built before 1940.

“Approximately 50 percent of the housing stock in South Pasadena is multi-family dwelling units.” The report states. “Almost three-quarters of the housing stock in South Pasadena was built before 1970; almost one-third was built before 1940. Older housing stock tends to have more issues due to deferred maintenance, lack of ADA accessibility, inadequate electrical wiring, used of lead-based paint, asbestos, and other issues.

The inspections will identify the existence of substandard and unsanitary residential rental properties and create a mechanism by which the City can hold property owners liable for bringing the properties up to minimum Municipal and State Building, Housing Code and Health and Safety Standards.”

According to data obtained from the California Department of Finance, the city’s housing increased from 10,349 to 11,155 between 1980 and 2017. There are 4,972 single-family detached homes, 1,400 two to four units and 4,121 five or more units, according to data from the city.

City officials are optimistic that the council will agree with a more proactive role and say inspections will not only benefit the city but residents and landlords alike.

“Inspection of rental housing can help ensure that South Pasadena’s rental housing stock is maintained and that residents living in rental housing live in healthy conditions,” the report states. “Inspection of rental housing can make landlords aware of poor conditions before they worsen, encouraging preventative maintenance that is more cost effective than deferred maintenance, and help landlords maintain their properties. Inspection of rental housing protects tenants that may fear complaining about the habitability of their rental housing and being evicted or having their rent increased consequently. Inspection of rental housing preserves neighborhood property values by preventing poorly maintained substandard housing.”

The question of enforcement is also addressed and could include penalty fees for non-compliance.

If a property is deemed in violation of habitability or housing quality standards, the inspector would initiate enforcement actions, including, but not limited to, penalties and fees for non-compliance and re-inspection.

Meanwhile, the tenant relocation assistance will help low-income households with moving costs, deposits and securing replacement housing.

“The purpose of a tenant relocation assistance policy is to help mitigate the adverse health, safety and economic impacts experienced by residents of rental housing who are displaced from their residences due circumstances such as I) demolition of a rental unit, 2) redevelopment of a rental unit, 3) conversation to a condominium unit or 4) change of use of from residential use to nonresidential use,” according to the staff report. “The policy would require the property owner to provide relocation assistance to tenants impacted by these specific conditions.”

A city ordinance is required as opposed to a resolution or other non-binding action because it will protect low-income households from being forced out into the streets, according to city officials.

“A local ordinance will further protect eligible tenants who have been displaced from a rental unit within a multi-family complex of three or more units,” the staff report states. “The proposed relocation assistance ordinance will only apply to ‘no-fault’ end of tenancy situations. ‘No-fault’ end of tenancies are when the landlord wants the unit back for personal or business (reasons).”

Those reasons include a resident manager who will move into the rental unit, demolition and permanent removal from the rental market, government order, conversion to condominiums, and temporary removal of the rental unit from housing use for capital improvement work, according to the staff report.

The next step for both these issues is to conduct community outreach that would include town-hall meetings on both the inspection of apartments with three or more units and relocation assistance for renters, according to Pope.

Following the community outreach, ordinances will be brought back to the council for final approval.

The timeline is to have ordinances in place by the beginning of the fiscal year, July 2019, according to city officials.