The city of Citrus Heights is proposing a new branch of the police department that focuses specifically on inspecting rental units for maladies ranging from mold to faulty carbon monoxide detectors in an effort to protect tenants.
The City Council will vote Thursday on whether to authorize the creation of the Rental Housing Inspection Unit, a project that would cost $145,790 to start and $507,068 annually, according to a City Council staff report.
“Our primary goals for the unit is to prevent threat to the tenants,” said Lieutenant Dave Gutierrez. “We believe that this unit will impact all residents and property owners of rental housing by increased property values and improved quality of life in all the neighborhoods.”
If the ordinance is passed, the inspection unit will examine the exteriors of all apartment buildings once every three years. In buildings with less than 15 units, the interiors of units will be inspected every three years. In buildings with more than 15 units, at least 5 percent of the interiors will be inspected every three years.
Inspectors will be on the lookout for a range of issues, including dilapidated landscaping, faulty plumbing and electrical fixtures, wiring that is sticking out of the ground, and rodent and insect infestations.
Units being inspected will get a notice 30 days in advance, and tenants have the option of opting out of the inspection. If inspectors find a major code violation in the unit, the property owners have 30 days to fix the violation, and will be charged a re-inspection fee of $470.
If units pass the first inspection, there is an opportunity for rental owners in properties with more than 16 units to self-certify. Under self-certification, owners will do their own inspection, and the inspection unit will conduct random audits 5 percent of self-certifying units no more than once a year.
This cost will be covered by an annual registration fee of $95, paid by rental owners for each property they own as well as a $5 to $10 dollar increase in the already established rental stock fee, also paid by rental owners for every unit they own.
The proposed ordinance follows in the footsteps of other cities and regions across Sacramento that have similar rental housing inspection units. According to Gutierrez, Citrus Height’s proposed policy was modeled closely after the established units in Rancho Cordova, the city of Sacramento, and the county of Sacramento.
The only difference between the proposed ordinance and the already established housing units is the price.
“We are concerned with the total cost of the program,” said Jim Lofgren, a senior vice president for the California Apartment Association, which advised the city on the ordinance.
According to Lofgren, in comparison with the proposed Citrus Heights ordinance, Sacramento County currently charges a $15.50 rental stock fee and has no annual registration fee.
But, as Gutierrez points out, the proposed Citrus Heights ordinance does not charge property owners for inspection. In contrast, Sacramento County charges a $335 inspection fee per property.
“We looked at different ways of doing the cost breakdown, and we didn’t want any fee to be associated with the inspection,” said Gutierrez.
Gutierrez also acknowledged that some renters may worry about rent prices going up if the ordinance is passed. But according to him, if the ordinance was passed, in a 100-unit complex there would be an increase in fees of $595. That breaks down to 49 cents per month per unit.
“Its a fee for service, and we truly believe this program will benefit property owners and renters alike,” Gutierrez said.
The $12-per-unit rental stock fee that property owners currently pay goes towards the established code enforcement branch of the Citrus Heights Police Department. Code enforcement cracks down on city code violations like graffiti, neglected landscaping and illegal dumping. But the three officers working out of the branch receive over 1,000 calls a year, and about one-quarter of those calls have to do with rental properties, according to the report.
The report goes on to say that due to the volume of calls, the code enforcement officers don’t usually have time to focus on preemptive measures. The police department is recommending that a rental housing inspection unit program be established to focus specifically on maintaining rental properties in the city.
Citrus Heights has about 15,000 rental units; 88 percent of those units were built before 1990, and 40 percent of rental property owners live more than 10 miles outside of the city. The intersection of these statistics has led to concern about the deterioration of the units, and the hope is that establishing a proactive unit for inspecting rental units will improve the quality and safety of rental units in the city and increase property values, according to the report.
The council is scheduled to vote on a draft of the ordinance this Thursday, but Citrus Heights Mayor Steve Miller expects that the final vote on the ordinance won’t happen until later.
“I’m going suggest we continue the item,” he said about the ordinance. Miller added that the city still needed to engage major stakeholders, such as the Sacramento Association of realtors.
“I’m sure we’d like to get it done by the end of the year,” he said. “Most likely a meeting in September.”