Yo slumlords, stop slumming

Sacramento is still figuring out how to ID slumlords. Maybe graffiti?


The ink wasn’t even dry in reporter Dave Kempa’s story on slummy residential motels, but it was already affecting policy.

Kempa’s inquiries into why “single-room occupancy” motels were under-occupied in a city with marked low-income housing needs set the tone during a Tuesday city council hearing on Sacramento’s rental housing inspection program. Through his digging, Kempa found that many of these motels ran high vacancies because of deplorable living conditions that even poor people can’t abide and because some rooms are too filled with maintenance junk to house individuals.

The impoverished may have fewer and fewer living options these days, but it seems they’d take a night out on the streets instead of a room shared with bedbugs, bats and brooms.

The city’s rental inspection program was supposed to course-correct some of these issues. The program started in 2008, after substandard rental units caught fire and killed a couple of kids, according to Ron O’Connor, operations manager of the city’s Community Development Department.

At the program’s inception, the city noted code and safety violations in 69 percent of the 2,932 parcels it inspected. Read that again: 69 percent.

Last year, the city inspected a bunch more parcels—4,876 to be exact—and tallied violations in 30 percent of them. When you crunch the math, it amounts to roughly the same amount of violations at 56 fewer parcels.

Anyway, city officials and rental housing advocates say the program is working.

“It cleaned up a lot of slumlord housing,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Pannell. “People were afraid to turn their landlords in. This program helped them.”

But it’s not yet helping everyone.

As Kempa’s story relates, impoverished residents of cheap residential motels like the Marshall, Capitol Park and Congress often live in dire conditions. Exposed conductors, defective flooring, unventilated heat—the bugs, cockroaches and rodents that some residents share their rooms with have it better.

Kempa was able to question Councilman Steve Hansen at length about these issues last week in a phone interview. It’s in Hansen’s district where many of these motels are located. And while Hansen declined to go on the record with SN&R, he did have some questions of his own during the May 28 hearing.

In answer to one of his questions, O’Connor said the central city residential motels are indeed inspected to the same degree that other rental structures are.

“We do inspect them every year,” O’Connor added.

“To same standard that you would inspect other rental housing?” Hansen followed up.

O’Connor cleared his throat and paused.

“Well, yes, we should,” he started. “And sometimes the inspectors get in there and, you know, feel sorry for a tenant here, a tenant there, but we’re working on that right now. But I will get back to you on that.”

Hansen politely requested a report back in three months on what exactly is being done to curtail violations at the residential motels.

Others also wanted more bite in the program, including those representing local rental property owners and managers. If the fines aren’t enough to deter bad actors with a history of code violations, maybe a class on being a responsible property owner would, suggested Cory Koehler, senior deputy director of government affairs at the Rental Housing Association of Sacramento Valley, a nonprofit industry group.

“Make their lives as difficult as possible,” he said.

Councilwoman Angelique Ashby took up that point a little later. Summarizing Koehler’s and others’ comments, she wondered, “Where is the meat in this? At what point can we identify bad actors to the extent that they can no longer have tenants in that facility and therefore it stops their revenue stream?”

That will be a question for a later date. In the meantime, watch out for those bedbugs.

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