Citing a need to protect Brentwood's quality of life and property values from deteriorating due to unkempt rental properties, the City Council Tuesday passed an ordinance putting pressure on landlords to keep their properties ship-shape.
The new rental inspection program will require landlords to obtain a business license for each of their rental properties. The properties will undergo an unannounced exterior inspection every two years, and warnings will be issued to owners for damaged or unsightly conditions. If left uncorrected, a $100 administrative citation would be issued, escalating to $250 and then to $500 if the problem is not corrected. Ultimately, the fines could result in a lien against the property, but citations and fines are not the goal, code enforcement officer Robbie Bienemann told the council.
Our first priority is to get voluntary compliance, she said.
Bienemann said an estimated 5,000 properties in the city are rentals, or roughly one-third of the total. She said it would take two years to find and inspect them all, which is one reason why the program is set on a two-year cycle.
Councilman Erick Stonebarger, surprised at the number of for-rent properties, said he supported the program, and that he was glad it was coming forward before the number grew. In a couple more years, we wouldn't be able to catch up, he said.
Resident David Roche also supported the ordinance, and decried the indifferent arrogance of some landlords who fail to maintain their properties properly. It's a problem that's only going to grow if steps aren't taken, he said, as all of East County has been identified as a place rife with foreclosed properties that could become rentals.
We're not going to hide from this, he said. The bull's-eye is on Brentwood right now.
Councilman Brandon Richey, who sits with Councilman Chris Becnel on the Neighborhood Improvement Committee that created the program, said he would prefer a stronger ordinance Antioch and Contra Costa County, for instance, inspect the interior of rental properties as well as the exterior but felt the proposed law was a good starting point to keep pace with neighboring communities. Without it, he said, it was tantamount to holding a sign up saying, Please bring your problem rentals to us.
Councilman Bob Brockman cast a lone dissenting vote, saying that he was nearly convinced to vote for it for the overall good of the community. Concern over intrusion into private property rights, along with the belief that recently passed code enforcement standards were enough, led him to oppose it as an issue of principle.
Bienemann said that the inspection program enhanced the new code-enforcement standards by making inspection of rentals mandatory, as opposed to the complaint-driven nature of the laws already on the books and which apply to all properties, not just rentals. Also, she said, code enforcement is paid for from the city's General Fund, whereas the costs of the new program will be covered by the new business licenses it generates. The licenses cost a one-time application fee of $34.18, plus $100 annually, enough to pay for the program through 2010-11. After that, it will require supplementation from the General Fund or a fee adjustment of about $5,000 in 2010-11, up to about $128,000 in 2016-17.
Bienemann told the council that rentals will be identified several ways, including searches of tax exemptions claimed for owner-occupied homes, and tax bills that are sent to addresses other than the property itself. Information will also be gathered through contacts made as a result of complaints against properties.
Properties that are exempt from the rental inspection program include hotels and motels, mobile homes and federal- and state-owned properties. (Section 8 homes, which receive housing subsidies but are privately owned, are subject to the program.) Also, the program will not be enforced in gated areas such as Summerset that are managed by homeowner associations because those areas are privately owned and monitored.