Fresno Moves To End Slum Housing Conditions

Feb 3, 2017

The Fresno City Council has voted to enact a rental housing inspection program aimed at cracking down on slum housing in the city.

The 4-3 vote came after more than two hours of public comment. Most people spoke in favor of the program, including the influential Apartment Association of Greater Fresno which represents owners and managers, as well as tenants’ rights advocates like Matthew Gundry.

He told the council stories about homes and apartments with untreated pest infestations, black mold, and more that goes ignored by landlords.

“So I urge you. I compel you to consider yourselves, I am the father of five children, consider yourselves, your own children, and would it be acceptable to live in these conditions,” Gundry says.

For the first time, the city will begin the process of setting a baseline inspection regime to get a sense of how much unsafe or substandard housing exists among the roughly 85,000 rental apartments and homes.

"it's one thing to bring a policy forward that sounds ambitious but doesn't work. This was designed specifically to tackle this enormous problem," Mayor Lee Brand

All rental units will be required to register with the city. For large apartment complexes, 10% of units will be inspected. Once inspected, units will be put in one of three tiers. The top tier will be subject to fewer follow-up inspections than the two lower tiers.

Concerns about the prevalence of slum housing conditions in Fresno came to head in late 2015. That’s when the city found hundreds of people living without gas or hot water at the Summerset Village apartment complex. Subsequently, a string of media reports highlighted some of the worst conditions in the city.

Councilmembers Steve Brandau, Clint Olivier, and Garry Bredefeld all voted against the plan.

Bredefeld warned about the potential for lawsuits against the city based on privacy violations of the renters.

“There is a thing called the Fourth Amendment. I respect the Fourth Amendment. There are cities like Garland, Texas where people have sued the city over the Fourth Amendment. People coming in and forcing inspections. It’s something we can’t just ignore because you may not like it,” Bredefeld said.

Opponents also warned that the plan could push vulnerable low-income people out the only home they can afford without another affordable housing option for them to move into.

Several smaller landlords also spoke against the plan saying it’s burdensome for them to pay the estimated $100 inspection fee on top of all other city regulations.

Don Scordino is the director of the Fresno Association of Realtors, which opposed the ordinance. He says focusing only on landlords misses the point.

"There is a thing called the Fourth Amendment. I respect the Fourth Amendment. There are cities like Garland, Texas where people have sued the city over the Fourth Amendment," Garry Bredefeld

“I agree there is a problem. But the problem, I believe, needs to be solved by greater tenant education. And in this document that is 13 pages long, there is only two sentences that deal with tenant education,” Scordino says.

Part of the ordinance does include the development of a tenant education program designed in conjunction with public, private and non-profit groups.

Following the vote, supporters of the plan cheered and pumped their fists in the air. The vote is the culmination of years of debate. It is also the first test for new Mayor Lee Brand. The council nearly acted on the issue in the waning days of the Ashley Swearengin administration before pushing it back to the New Year. Unlike Brand’s proposal, Swearengin’s plan would not have included a baseline inspection provision.

Before the vote, Brand urged support from the council saying his plan is a sensible one that balances the needs of landlord and renters.

“It’s one thing to bring a policy forward that sounds ambitious but doesn’t work. This was designed specifically to tackle this enormous problem,” Brand says.

Brand hopes to have the first round of inspections complete within two years and to have all the units sorted into different tiers and in a self-inspection pool in five years.