LA tries to stop shoddy repairs by landlords

LA officials are considering a plan to allow suprise inspections on apartments in need of repairs.
LA officials are considering a plan to allow suprise inspections on apartments in need of repairs.

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The Los Angeles City Council approved a pilot program Tuesday that will allow city inspectors to show up unannounced at apartment buildings to verify repair complaints from tenants.

The goal is to stop errant landlords from skimping on repair work, and to ensure that large-scale problems are corrected.

"Many times, the landlord will go make repairs, but they may not be the appropriate repairs," said Rushmore Cervantes, head of the city's housing department. "We’re finding we have to go back on subsequent complaints for the same systematic issues."

The program, proposed by Councilmember Gil Cedillo, won cheers from tenants groups, who say some landlords deal with issues like water leaks and vermin infestations by simply patching or painting over problematic areas, and that city inspectors have been unable to catch these shortcuts because they don't survey the damage beforehand.

Under the new program, inspectors will not notify a landlord that they are coming to survey damage in their building, and they will follow up to ensure that the proper repair was made.

Up until now, landlords have been given 15 days' notice of when inspectors might show up to check out a complaint.

A spokesman for L.A. landlords said the change is not fair or professional, and that they should get at least three days' warning.

"So they can be there to witness the inspection, see what needs to repair first-hand and then comply if a notice is ordered," said Jim Clarke of the Apartment Association of Greater Los Angeles.   

The city will test the pilot program in eastern and central L.A. where there is a higher percentage of older buildings that are "typically the source of housing complaints," according to a report by the housing department. The vast majority of nearly 40,000 properties in those areas were built before 1978.

Elizabeth Blaney of the Boyle Heights-based tenants group, Union de Vecinos, said she’s optimistic the program will reduce second-rate repairs. She said her group gets about 20 complaints a week on recurring problems such as “leaky faucets, caulking that wouldn’t be patched correctly, holes in walls that would eventually open again.”

Blaney said one client complained of vermin coming through holes in the bathroom wall, where the caulking was falling apart. The landlord tried to fill the holes with the wrong materials, she said.

"Two weeks later, there are more roaches and mice coming in," Blaney said.

Another part of the pilot program compels landlords with a record of poor repairs to work with the city on how to fix up their properties. This applies to building owners in parts of Hollywood, East Hollywood, Koreatown, Pico Union and Westlake. Those areas make up L.A.'s Promise Zone, one of more than a dozen impoverished areas identified by the Obama administration as needing special federal treatment around issues such as public health.