SA plans to crack down on ‘bad actor’ apartment owners

City is looking for ways to crack down on negligent landlords after residents of Seven Oaks apartments on San Antonio’s northwest side raise concerns about cockroaches, rats, major water leaks, broken air conditioning , black mold and more in recent months.

Tenants said complaints about the issues were not addressed by the landlord and some residents received notices to vacate.

District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, who represents the Seven Oaks area, wants the city to increase its inspections. Officials presented three options Thursday to strengthen oversight of the city to a committee of council members.

“We want to have adequate living conditions for everyone, and inspections are part of that,” Sandoval said.

city council on Thursday, December 16, 2021.”/>

File – District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval speaks during city council on Thursday, December 16, 2021.

Kin Man Hui / Personal Photographer

San Antonio Code Enforcement Officers work reactively, responding to calls and determining if there are any violations. The idea is to take a proactive approach.

The first option would create a team of four to six code enforcement officers who would focus solely on inspecting apartments. The city’s general fund would cover the cost, so there would be no additional cost to apartment complex owners. The city could also move quickly to the option — kicking it off by Oct. 1 with the start of San Antonio’s next fiscal year budget.

The second option would focus on so-called “bad actor” apartment owners. Resorts with a high number of code violations would be required to register with the city and undergo additional inspections. They would be charged a fee to cover the costs.

A third option is to develop a city-wide apartment registry, requiring all apartments in San Antonio to register with the city and undergo regular inspections. All apartment owners would have to pay a fee, contributing to the cost of inspections, regardless of how many violations they have.

The second and third options require a city code change and would take longer – six to 12 months – to materialize.

Sandoval backed the first option in a memo to city council this week.

“This issue demands a quick response – we cannot wait another 6-12 months to develop a program while residents continue to live in substandard housing,” she wrote.

City staff recommended the second option because it would focus on problem areas. But Sandoval said that means the city has to wait until there is a problem before taking action.

Still, she doesn’t want San Antonio to rely solely on the first option.

None of the options address what the city could do to support tenants when a landlord fails to follow city code. There should be a plan for residents in living situations that threaten their health, Sandoval said.

She also wants the city council to explore how to provide portable air conditioning units or temporary accommodation for residents who spend an unreasonable amount of time without running the air conditioning.

When Seven Oaks tenants were in the midst of a record summer this year without repaired air conditioning, Sandoval used his campaign funds to pay for motel rooms for some residents. These tenants have since left the motel, either returning to Seven Oaks with repairs completed or moving into new accommodations.

There was no immediate answer on how the city could help those residents, Sandoval said, so she took it on her own given the added flexibility of campaign funds.

Increased inspections could be pushed back by apartment groups. Celine Williams, acting executive director of the San Antonio Apartment Association, told council members Thursday that most properties are up to city code.

“We hope that any policy created will address the few outliers,” Williams said.

Association members work to provide housing in San Antonio but have faced late rent payments and increased operating costs due to the pandemic, Williams said.

This, combined with planned increases in property taxes, has delayed some major building improvements. Still, Williams said, the apartment association wants to work with the city on an inspection policy.

FILE - Teri Castillo of District 5 speaks as City Council meets to discuss and vote on the city's record $3.1 billion budget on Thursday, September 16, 2021.

FILE – Teri Castillo of District 5 speaks as City Council meets to discuss and vote on the city’s record $3.1 billion budget on Thursday, September 16, 2021.

Kin Man Hui / Personal Photographer

District 5 Councilwoman Teri Castillo, who represents the West Side, said she wanted to see a version of all three options. But she wanted more time for the city council to work out the details.

“Coming up with something like this is warranted and long overdue,” Castillo said.

Others agreed, wanting additional public input. The City Council’s Planning and Community Development Committee will review the options at their next meeting.

It will not be the first time that the city council has tried to increase inspections.

In 2009 and 2010, San Antonio considered an annual rental property inspection and registration program. After the pushback, the city did not prosecute him.

In 2017, officials devoted years of work to a program to inspect seniors’ residences. But they couldn’t get along, and efforts slowed when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Sandoval thinks this time can be different.

“There’s just a lot more visibility and public pressure on it right now,” she said.

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