San Antonio – Instead of waiting to get new complaints about the same old properties, the City of San Antonio plans to send code enforcement officers out to proactively look for issues.
And the landlords would be forced to help foot the bill for the extra attention.
The “Proactive Apartment Inspection Program” still needs city council approval, but the proposed version Development Services Department Director Mike Shannon presented to a city council committee on Thursday would require at least half a year’s worth of extra inspections at frequently-cited apartment complexes.
Code enforcement citations are issued after a landlord fails to fix a violation after being notified about it, typically in a 10-day window.
The program was born out of the attention that properties with numerous citations like Seven Oaks Apartments attracted in the summer of 2022. Renters and activists complained of problems at Seven Oaks like air conditioning issues, a lack of hot water, water damage, and roaches, and even protested at city hall and the property owner’s Austin offices.
A Department of Development Services spokeswoman said Seven Oaks was ultimately issued 24 citations.
It would take far less for a property to be identified as a “bad actor” under the proposed program.
Through the P.A.I.P., apartment complexes that receive at least three citations for “designated” violations within a six-month period would be forced to register with the city and get monthly, proactive code enforcement inspections.
That’s on top of any normal inspections the city would do in response to 311 calls.
While citations already cost landlords money - between $300 and $1,000, depending on if it’s a repeat violation - they would also have to pay a still-undetermined fee to register their property with the city for the P.A.I.P..
Those fees would help offset the cost of the new, six-member team that Shannon proposed to handle the inspections.
Shannon estimates the full team and its equipment would cost $388,000 in the first year and $300,000 in the second.
In anticipation of some kind of initiative for apartment inspections, the city council already approved two new code enforcement positions for the current budget year.
“I think this ordinance will actually incentivize people to do a better job - those that aren’t doing it - but also, those bad actor apartments that aren’t doing good with property maintenance, they’re going to pay for more code officers to be there proactively, not just waiting for 311 calls,” Shannon told reporters after Thursday’s meeting.
The “designated” citations to be tracked for the program would be for code violations relating to safety and basic habitability, such as structural issues, electrical problems, sewer backups, lack of heat, and pests.
Although properties could still be cited for code violations related to issues like overgrown grass, those citations would not count toward putting them on the “bad actors” list.
Shannon said properties would be able to “graduate” from the program by fixing all the violations and making it through six months with fewer than three citations.
If a property ends up back on the list for a second time within four years, it would have to stay on it for at least 12 months.
Mia Loseff, the South Texas Regional Director of Texas Housers, was part of the stakeholder group that helped develop the program. She believes “both sides gave a little bit” during the discussions and that the resulting proposal strikes a balance.
Well-intentioned landlords would be able to get out of the program, she said, “But those bad actors - those folks who aren’t intending to fix - they really don’t care about the conditions, it needs to be unpleasant for them in the program.”
Loseff noted the cost of citations alone may not be enough to motivate larger landlords to clean up their properties.
“So it’s the constant checkups, it’s the increased fees. I think it’s the presence of code on your property often that’s going to help to kind of make that unpleasant.”
The P.A.I.P. would only apply to apartment complexes with at least five rental units. Single-family rental homes, duplexes, and quadplexes would not fall under the proposal.