City tackles boarding house regulations

Permits, stricter code compliance recommended

Author: Charles Gonzalez, Reporter, Anchor, cgonzalez@ksat.com
Published On: Oct 10 2012 06:10:18 PM CDT   Updated On: Oct 10 2012 06:43:28 PM CDT
SAN ANTONIO -

The San Antonio City Council listened to recommendations on a possible new city ordinance to regulate boarding homes during their B session Wednesday afternoon.

The recommendations from the Office of Development Services came following the Aug. 15 boarding home fire that claimed the lives of four men at 309 W. Norwood Court.

The owner of that home, Nancy Murrah, recently began subletting rooms at 827 W. French Place.

Because of the number of boarders, she should have a certificate of occupancy, which would require certain fire and safety inspections.

"We've been knocking on her door, she hasn't answered her door yet, but yes, she will be required to get a certificate of occupancy and meet all the building codes that are in place today," said Development Services Director Rod Sanchez, who gave the presentation.

Three years ago, the state legislature gave cities the authority to regulate boarding homes and Sanchez's office estimates there are at least 200 in the city limits.

"It's a complicated issue but we know there's a need out there to protect people and make sure they're safe," said Sanchez.

"We have to make sure we can do this, get it right, make sure that people are taken care of," added District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal, whose district both of Murrah's boarding homes are located in. "If there's room or even an appetite by the public to do more, we'll have to revisit that."

Looking at similar ordinances in El Paso and Dallas, as well as the state's mode for boarding home standards, Sanchez's office recommended the city focus on core requirements, including structure safety, property maintenance, kitchen food safety and appropriate zoning, with a big emphasis on making sure the homes meet code with sprinkler systems and commercial grade electrical wiring.

"If we get sprinkler systems and smoke alarms and smoke detectors in these homes, it will suppress the fire and give people a fighting chance to get out of a fire should one occur," said Sanchez.

Other recommendations include annual inspections and permit fees of $1,000, employee training, as well as requiring home operators to annually assess residents to ensure they can complete basic elements of physical care such as bathing and feeding themselves.

A total of $750,000 has been set aside in the city budget to cover the costs of seven additional employees along with relocation assistance for displaced residents.

Sanchez's presentation called for an effective ordinance date of March 1, 2013, and said boarding homes that come forward before then would be given a year to come up to code and avoiding fines of up to $2,000 a day.

"Tell us who you are so we know you're there," said Sanchez. "Those are the people we're going to give a year to put in those big ticket items because we know the sprinkler systems and commercial wiring are expensive."

"We believe that if they're going to do a job, they have to do it right," added Bernal. "Our job is to make sure they're doing it safely and honestly."

The council did not make plans to put the proposed ordinance on future agenda's but the presentation called for it to go to A session no later than January 2013 to ensure it could go into effect by March.