DESCRIPTION OF THE STRATEGY
In many cases, tenants lack the ability to address substandard housing conditions or are reluctant to exercise their rights out of concern that the landlord will retaliate. Empowering tenants to take action when housing conditions are inadequate and enabling neighborhood organizations to act on tenants’ behalf can significantly enhance the efforts of code enforcement officials. One effective strategy is to legally enable tenants or their advocates to request a code inspection and empower them to pursue enforcement actions themselves in court. This approach also helps circumvent the common problem of inadequate resources for enforcement.
Tenants in substandard properties obtain legal standing to initiate code inspections, enforcement, and remediation actions without fear of landlord retaliation. If receiverships (court appointment of third party administrators to manage properties and oversee repairs) or rent escrow arrangements are permitted, rents can be used directly to fund repairs.
High-risk housing is targeted for repairs that reduce health hazards. Code agency and/or court oversight can ensure that repairs are done safely and following accepted protocols and without hazards being left behind.
Tenants gain power in relation to landlords, which could result in landlords community-wide becoming more responsive and proactive regarding maintenance and repairs.
Scope of Potential Impact
City - or - County - Wide
Specific (Targeted) Population
|Community-based Organizations||Code or Building Inspection Agency|
An experienced organizer could, in several months, organize a campaign capable of enacting such a law. One or more FTE (organizers, attorneys) could staff a project to assist tenants with using the process in just one community. Enacting a new state or municipal law to give legal standing for tenants in substandard properties to initiate code inspections/enforcement and take enforcement actions themselves can be a major undertaking.
Other resource requirements:
Research would be needed on existing laws, as well as on the degree and extent of substandard housing conditions in the jurisdiction and specific shortcomings of the existing code enforcement system.
An organization undertaking such a campaign would need the capacity to organize and lobby, experienced staff, and relationships with allies among tenants’ rights, affordable housing, public interest, legal, and other community organizations.
The positive impact on housing affordability and condition is potentially great. These benefits will far exceed the cost of a campaign to secure enabling legislation. Creating and funding an organization or agency to provide ongoing assistance to tenants bringing enforcement cases should be considered, as this will greatly improve the impact of the law and the quality of outcomes.
Variable. Any organization undertaking such an effort should understand that because of the complex and unpredictable nature of the legislative process, the degree of difficulty may be greater than expected and success is not guaranteed. Pilot programs with limited scope may be a useful first step, giving advocates time and resources to prove that the strategy is effective in a target area.
This strategy requires enacting new legislation, working to ensure that it is effectively implemented, and ongoing work to assist tenants with using the process. Thus, this strategy is a major undertaking and could fail if sufficient resources and energy are not available to overcome inertia and political opposition.