This summer the city has seen an increase in complaints about substandard housing. The problems within these homes can range from no water hookups to dangerous, unauthorized structure modifications. The complaints come from either those who are living in rental properties or neighbors that recognize a problem is likely taking place.
Community Development Director Jessica Scott said her department responded to three of these complaints last week.
“There are basic safety ordinances for anywhere you live,” Scott said. “You have to have running water for health and safety reasons. Your bedroom has to have a window so if your place catches on fire you can get out.”
She said the properties that do not have water either come from landlords who have not paid the water bill on properties where the water is supposed to be included in the rent or from properties where the city has denied water hookups because the building has already been condemned.
“There have been cases where we’ve told the owner that we cannot hook up water because the building is uninhabitable but they’ll just rent it out anyway and tell the tenant to use the restroom somewhere else,” Scott said.
Another recent problem has been people who illegally subdivide homes into smaller apartments.
“Here lately we’ve had an influx of people going in and dividing their house into smaller rooms then renting them out,” Scott said. This can lead to “apartments” with no bathrooms and too many people living in a small space.
Assistant City Manager Kevin Boatright encouraged anyone who believes they may be renting a substandard home — or anyone who feels their neighbors might be living in a substandard home — to report it to Development Services.
“We at the city, we’re not going to know there’s a problem unless they bring that to Development Services,” Boatright said. “Then they can either go visit the property to confirm violations or let the renter know their problem is outside the city’s purview and something to address with their landlord.”
Boatright said that sometimes renters are afraid to report violations out of fear of retaliation.
“I think sometimes people don’t let us know because they are afraid of being evicted, and they think if they come to us with a complaint the landlord might retaliate and they’ll have no place to live,” Boatright said.
Sometimes the situation is so bad the city has no choice but to force the renters to leave until the problem is corrected, and sometimes things are so bad the building gets condemned. Boatright said when that happens the city works with government and charitable agencies to find temporary accommodation and the landlords are fined.
“These people are preying on people with no other choices,” Scott said. “And then they (the landlords) come to us and say we’re picking on the poor. But no one should ever have to live like that. We’re just trying to help people as best we can.”