Most people believe that ensuring buildings are safe should be a basic part of local government, but in our majority-renter city, we have no functional system to ensure health and safety in rental homes. Thousands of families deal with mold, leaks, rats, and other hazards in their homes on a daily basis, with no way to hold their landlords accountable. Hurricanes and storms exacerbate these dangerous conditions and often leave families homeless.
A Healthy Homes Policy will finally improve conditions.
The four necessary provisions of any policy are:
1. All rentals must meet a very basic standard of health and safety.
That standard should include safe and operating plumbing, electrical systems, smoke alarms, and heat and cooling systems. It also requires roofs, windows, doors, and walls to be without holes and free of mold.
2. Renters and neighbors are able to report landlords who refuse to make repairs to the city.
The policy should ensure that 311 operators accept complaints and set up a website where all residents can track the status of complaints and inspections. The policy should also make all efforts to protect renters from retaliation for submitting a complaint.
3. A pro-active program to register and inspect rental homes.
Property owners should register their rentals with the city. Small landlords with buildings of four units or less can self-certify that their properties meet the standard, but would be subject to inspections when complaints are filed. Units owned by larger landlords, or corporate landlords who own their properties as an LLC, should pass a basic health and safety inspection every three years. A pro-active inspection program, rather than a complaint-based system, will ensure vulnerable renters do not have to put themselves at risk of eviction to keep their home safe.
4. Support for small landlords and displaced renters.
The policy should include a low-cost loan or grant program for small landlords who may need additional resources to bring their properties up to code. City resources should also be paired with guarantees to ensure rents are held stable for a period of time after the improvements are completed. Separately, some portion of the registration fee should support an anti-displacement fund to assist renters who may be forced to move if their unit is uninhabitable.