L.A. City Council Moves Forward to Strengthen Housing Inspection Program

Safety inspection on the checklist document - Industrial safety concept photo.

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LOS ANGELES (CNS) - The Los Angeles City Council Wednesday approved a motion seeking to improve the city's housing inspection capabilities to ensure timely and quality repairs for renters, and to encourage tenants and landlords to fully participate in the process.

The Council voted 12-0 on the matter. Council members Paul Krekorian and Curren Price recused themselves because they are landlords, and Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez was absent during the vote.

"SCEP (Systematic Code Enforcement Program) is one of the few tools tenants have to materially improve substandard living conditions," Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez said prior to the vote, who was one of four council members who introduced the motion on Oct.11.

The councilwoman said these violations are sometimes used as a means to remove tenants from their homes. The current SCEP lacks "teeth" and needs to ensure that landlords who fail to make these repairs are held accountable, Hernandez added.

The motion from council members Nithya Raman, Hernandez, Hugo Soto- Martinez and Heather Hutt instructs the Los Angeles Housing Department and other relevant departments to report back with recommendations to address limitations of the current SCEP and complaint-based inspections.

The program is intended to ensure rental housing is safe and healthy for tenants, and to prevent landlords from using violations as a reason for removing tenants from their homes. Code enforcement officers also perform inspections when tenants make complaints.

Officials say the program lacks certain accountability measures. In some cases, tenants wait weeks or even months for repairs because of inadequate documentation of code violations.

In addition, the program allows for broad discretion to give landlords extensions to respond to repairs or other complaints.

"Patterns of inadequate repairs, harassment and opaque guidelines within the current SCEP and complaint-based inspections also highlight the need for broader application of Tenant Habitability Plans," the motion reads.

If tenants needs to be temporarily relocated due to necessary repairs or renovations such as re-piping, seismic retrofitting, substantial alterations and re-wiring, a landlord would need to file Tenant Habitability Plans with the Housing Department, which provides a plan for mitigating impacts to tenants, and rehousing them if necessary.

According to the motion, many types of repairs could displace tenants for unknown periods of time, but not trigger the filing of Tenant Habitability Plans, which council members seek to address.

Additionally, the council members want to implement a petition process for rent adjustment as an incentive to make landlords make repairs.

In cities with rent control such as Santa Monica, Alameda and San Francisco, officials have allowed tenants to file petitions for a decrease in rent based on the condition of the unit, or decreases in services.

Tenants could file several petitions without needing to prove that the entire property is uninhabitable to receive a decrease in their rent if a landlord fails to make repairs.

Landlords would be able to increase the rent to its original value once repairs were made.

"As someone who is a renter, I deal with these things myself personally, and I live in a 60-unit apartment," Soto-Martinez said. "I can't tell you how many times I walk out to let my dog out and folks tell me that they're dealing with black mold, and rat infestations."

He added, "...This is really one of the steps to make sure that we actually respond to the majority of the folks that live in the city of Los Angeles."

The Housing Department is expected to bring forward recommendations to improve the SCEP in 60 days, according to the motion.

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