Increase Code Inspections

Increase Code Inspections and Fund Repairs

Increase housing safety by increasing inspections and making funding available for repairs and renovations.

Housing in a vulnerable neighborhood in Kent, Washington, south of Seattle (photo by authors)

What's the issue?

Profiteering landlords can neglect maintenance of properties, leading to slum-like living conditions for tenants. In gentrifying neighborhoods, landlords may sit on lived-in property without committing to necessary upkeep, as they wait to sell their property as its value rises. This rent-seeking results in upward distribution of wealth towards property owners at the expense of healthy living conditions for poor and working class renters. In neighborhoods receiving displaced persons, demand for affordable housing may be so high that landlords do not have to offer any kind of upkeep. Unsafe housing stock is a form of housing instability, and can result in displacement if, for example, heating systems break down in the winter or dangerous mold appears. And worse, residents may fear eviction if they complain about such problems. Governments must step in to ensure a decent home for all.

How does increasing inspections help?

Municipalities should increase housing inspections in gentrifying areas to ensure minimum standards and prevent exploitation. Inspections should occur in between tenants to prevent existing tenants from being temporarily displaced by repairs. Intermittent inspections should occur when triggered by tenant complaints. Rather than shutting down properties with violations, as most municipalities currently do, the government should help subsidize repairs for low and moderate income housing.  Landlords to apply for funding for repairs if they agree to stabilize rent on the property and keep it affordable for low and moderate income renters. When any violation is cited a follow up inspection should be done to ensure the repairs were completes, especially when the city subsidized repairs.  Additionally, the city should require landlords to subsidize temporary housing vouchers to last the duration of repairs.

The City of Denver inspired this program. Though it currently operates a complaint-based system of inspections, which jeopardizes the stability of residents who may not have long-term or favorable leases, the city is exploring a rental registry that continuously inspects housing for code enforcement, paid for by a small landlord fee. Furthermore, the city helps fund housing rehabilitation for lower income homeowners.

"Federal Heights makes changes to rental inspection program after complaints, city inspector’s departure," The Denver Post, November 1, 2016.

When and where does this policy work best?

This policy works best when applied to areas that already have poor quality, affordable housing; if put into place across cities, landlords in higher income areas might allow properties to deteriorate so that the city can fund repairs. The city must also be sure that landlords do not use this program to upgrade and begin renting to higher income tenants. A condition of receiving funding might be keeping rents constant for a period of years.

Works best for neighborhoods in early-stage gentrification or for receiving neighborhoods

What are some possible problems and how can we address them?

To avoid problems with this policy, inspections must respect the rights of tenants. This policy will be most effective at improving the quality of housing without disrupting lives if inspections and repairs primarily occur in between tenants. In Federal Heights, north of Denver, some renters have pushed back against a similar program because they don't like their homes being searched, according to The Denver Post. In this policy, city officials should never enter homes without renter's consent and should present themselves as renters' allies, there to inspect on their behalf.