In Waco it is on renters to report code violations their landlords are leaving unaddressed, but that could change under a multifamily registration and inspection program the Waco City Council is considering.
The city’s code enforcement program is based on responding to complaints, but city staff presented a plan during a city council meeting Tuesday to register apartment buildings for regular inspections by code enforcement officials. Housing Director Galen Price said the new program would give tenants a voice and keep city housing stock in livable condition.
“Our housing study identified a shortage of units, and as we look to address these shortages we need to work to maintain the units we currently have in our inventory,” Price said.
Price said he is prepared to have a draft ordinance ready by the end of the month, with an expectation to finalize it after a community engagement process next year.
Under the recommendations, four inspectors and one support staff member would inspect multi-family housing sites with four or more units. Properties with three or fewer units, properties built less than five years ago, dorms and assisted living facilities would also be exempt.
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Council Member Andrea Barefield brought up Trendwood Apartments, 1700 Dallas Circle, a federally subsidized apartment complex with a history of code violations.
Barefield said the city’s code enforcement and legal departments managed a “tremendous lift” when the city sued the owners of Trendwood Apartments in 2019 after the city found code violations in 143 out of 147 apartment units. The complex is under new management, and the city dropped the suit last year after the owners paid a fine and brought the complex back into compliance.
“For those who are doing what they should do, it is but a small thing,” Barefield said. “And I know people are about private property and property rights and all that business, but I think it’s just another small effort to keep us honest.”
She said Trendwood only reached the state it did because the city only investigated tenant complaints instead of proactively inspecting the complex.
A program like the one presented Tuesday would have helped the city intervene more quickly, Code Enforcement Director Chris Randazzo said in an interview after the meeting.
Price proposed a fee of $13 per unit per year, with late fees. Landlords would be given a checklist of inspection items and a notice of inspection 30 days in advance. Any follow-up inspections that are required would incur a fee of $250 per trip, starting with the second follow-up.
There are about 323 complexes in Waco that would be subject to inspections, according to Price.
The program would cost about $335,000 to implement, counting the salary for code officers, administration staff, hybrid trucks and software. Price said the fees are calculated based on the cost of administering the program, and are not designed to turn a profit for the city.
Council Member Jim Holmes said he is in favor of the idea.
“I think it’s very compelling when we bring up the point that it facilitates the preservation of our housing stock, which is very important right now when we’re kind of short,” Holmes said. “It also encourages preventative maintenance.
Council Member Josh Borderud said a large chunk of the city’s multifamily housing is in his district and he hopes a program like this could improve relations between tenants and landlords.
“I don’t think it’s such an intrusion on private property rights. It looks like a great solution to make sure these units are at least habitable,” he said.
Council Member Kelly Palmer said the idea made her “giddy,” because the city’s housing efforts have so far focused mostly on assistance for homeowners.
“I heard a lot of positive feedback on this when we first were talking about this in the housing study, both from nonprofit partners and from individual renters in my district,” Palmer said.
She asked if the program could be expanded to smaller rental properties after the first few years, and Price said it could be expanded.
Waco Mayor Dillon Meek said he supports the program and it is a good idea “in theory” but he is concerned the program could inconvenience blameless landlords if it is not implemented carefully.
“What I don’t want to have happen is somehow this program becomes an undue burden for the good actors who are actually working hard to take care of the property, and the bad actors are somehow skipping the system because we don’t design this right,” Meek said.
He said the proposed system appears well-designed but he wants to keep sight of ensuring it works as intended.
Inspectors would visit a portion of the apartments each year because it is not feasible to visit them all in a single year.
The city of Killeen’s city council considered an inspection program last year, but tabled the issue.