Buena Park officials are considering sending out code enforcement officers to routinely inspect apartments in an effort to ensure residents are living in habitable conditions – despite pushback and concern from landlords and property managers.

It comes as residents and activists are increasing pressure on city councils throughout Orange County – and on the state legislature – to enact tight rent caps and hold landlords accountable for repairs.

[Read: OC Activists Went to Sacramento to Push for Rent Control; Cops Were Called Instead]

During a study session at Tuesday’s meeting, Buena Park council members directed staff to come back with a phased inspection program over three year cycles in targeted neighborhoods throughout the city that excludes single family homes, duplexes and triplexes.

City Councilmember Connor Traut said the city already has a program that addresses those types of units and called for Community Development Block Grant funds to help offset the cost.

He added that these targeted areas may benefit from focused community outreach and public safety programs.

“I don’t think the focal point should just be on issues pertaining to living conditions caused by landlords. I think there’s a lot of other social issues there that we can be working on,” Traut said.

Some landlords and property owners pushed back on the proposed rental inspection program at Tuesday’s meeting, arguing they already regularly inspect and maintain their properties with one local landlord calling the inspection program communism.

Victor Cao, senior vice president at the California Apartment Association, said there are already state laws protecting tenants and that his group is willing to work with the city to help address the maintenance concerns.

“State law does have a warranty of habitability. There are also anti-retaliation laws on the books right now, if the issue is a perceived lack of enforcement or lack of rights, the best thing that we can do is education,” he said at the meeting.

But some residents have been continuously showing up to Buena Park City Council meetings in an effort to get city officials to address what they say are unacceptable living conditions because landlords have been ignoring critical maintenance issues. 

Lexi Hernandez, a renter who spoke on Zoom Tuesday, said not all renters feel safe or comfortable filing complaints even when they know their rights.

“This program is a means to ensure that all community members and Buena Park families have safe and thriving living conditions,” she said.

“Inspections are a way to ensure that housing is up to date and safe.”

The idea of the rental inspection program was first discussed in late March. 

[Read: Buena Park Officials Consider Holding Landlords Accountable for Apartment Repairs]

City staff initially projected the cost for a phased inspection program to be around $90,000 a year with rental property owners having to pay about $100 per unit annually, according to a staff report.

Matt Foulkes, director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, however said at the meeting the fee would be $30 a year for three years.

Councilmembers also directed staff to come back with a proposal for a yearlong education program for landlords and tenants on legal requirements and their rights.

Mayor Art Brown proposed the idea for the education program in lieu of the inspection program.

“That way, we have an idea what’s going on, we educate everybody,” Brown said Tuesday. “If that doesn’t work, then we really come down hard.”

Council member Jose Trinidad Castañeda, who first raised the idea of an inspection program in January, said residents have been raising valid concerns about their rental conditions. 

“The reason why I brought this forward was because there were very, very legitimate concerns from community members about the quality of their homes, in vapid deterioration,” Castañeda said at the meeting.

As a renter and after visiting some homes, Castañeda said he’s seen it first hand.

“There are serious and egregious violations of building codes that we should not ignore that impact the health and safety of residents.” 

Clarification: An earlier version of this article stated that the inspection program would cost property owners $100 per unit annually based on a city staff report. Matt Foulkes, director of the city’s Community and Economic Development Department, said at the meeting the fee would be about $30 annually for three years.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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