City Council Gives OK to Explore Rental Concepts with Public

Lucy Demirjian, assistant to the city manger, at council. Photo by Steve Whitmore

The South Pasadena City Council Wednesday night unanimously approved city staff to reach out to the public to gather information regarding rental inspections and tenant relocation assistance as well as bring back an ordinance or two that cover both programs.

The council voted 5-0 with minimal comment to explore these concepts that would ultimately place the city in an oversight role over rental properties of three or more units and would include helping renters relocate when proven necessary.

The tentative timeline is that, for the first six months of next year, the city will hold a series of community meetings to gather input from residents and property owners. A consultant will be brought on board to help shape an appropriate fee-schedule after a comprehensive fee study is undertaken and completed.

Then, in May and June, an ordinance or two would be developed, reviewed by at least the Planning Commission and ultimately approved and adopted by the City Council, according to city officials.

The goal is to have the policies in place by the beginning of Fiscal Year 2019-2020, which starts July 1.

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 an earlier 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.

A city staff report to the City Council from City Manager Stephanie DeWolfe explained 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,” the staff report that was presented to the council Wednesday night states. “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.”

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. “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.”

The inspection program also benefits the landlords, according to the city.

“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,” the report continues. “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 to circumstances such as I) demolition of a rental unit, 2) redevelopment of a rental unit, 3) conversion to a condominium unit or 4) change 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).”