By ASHLEY TOMPKINS, Managing Editor
Possible black mold, faulty wiring, broken windows and HVAC problems – these are just a few of the sub-standard living conditions some Sealy residents face on a daily basis, living in neglected multi-family rental properties.
In years past, the City of Sealy has had no authority over living conditions at many aging multi-family rental properties in the city, but that’s about to change.
Sealy officials are facing sub-standard living conditions head on with a recently approved ordinance that would allow city workers to enter and inspect multi-family rental units semi-annually and cite and fine complex owners if they do not meet a more stringent set of regulations.
“Over the past year and a half, I’ve received many complaints from tenants from apartment buildings that there’s faulty wiring, possible black mold, HVAC problems, and a couple of safety issues…now, we’re ready to take care of business,” said Sealy City Manager Chris Coffman.
The city is moving ahead with the ordinance, and recently met with representatives of local multi-family rental properties, defined by the city as a complex with at least three connected units, in town to go over rules and regulations.
Rental property owners have until December to get into compliance with the new regulations, or face up to $2,000 in fines.
Some complexes, Coffman said, are in dire need of regulation, mostly due to a lack of property maintenance. Improperly disposed of furniture cluttering parking lots, cracked or broken windows taped together as opposed to being replaced, and light fixtures held together with tape were just a few problems the city recently ran into when one resident invited workers into his home to see first-hand the problems he faced.
The resident, who had possible black mold growing on his walls, was expected to continue paying his $550 rent each month. When he stopped due to his current living conditions, the complex owners filed eviction papers.
“These people are expected to pay rent…” Coffman said. “I think it’s really important that our citizens are provided a safe living environment. They’re not getting it on a 100 percent basis. This (ordinance) will help bring that about.”
City officials were quick to point out not all renters in the city are living in sub-standard conditions, but those who are should be assisted.
There are a total of nine multi-family rental properties in the city, with 429 units. City workers can now enter those units once every six months to inspect living conditions. If the unit fails to meet the city’s rules and regulations, the property owner may be cited and fined up to $2,000 a day until the issue is resolved.
In some instances, the city could prohibit a unit being rented out if it does not meet certain criteria.
Kimberly Brooks, City of Sealy director of planning and community development, stressed the new ordinance is not meant to invade residents’ privacy, but to give the city a way to regulate multi-family housing units. Prior to the ordinance, the city could only enter a rental unit if invited by a tenant.
Property owners will have to change lease agreements giving the city permission to enter units. Brooks said renters should be notified ahead of time that their unit will be inspected.
“I think this is a step in the right direction,” Coffman said. “We can actually request an inspection before the property is rented to make sure it meets fire code, make sure there’s no faulty wiring.”
Complex owners will be charged an initial inspection fee of $10 per unit. Brooks said those who are cited will more than likely work to remedy the problem since they will be paying a fine and losing money on a vacant apartment.
Property owners are now required to maintain a clean premise and repair, replace or restore any peeling paint, cracked or loose plaster, broken glass, decayed wood and any other defective surface.
All current Sealy apartment windows must now include insect screens, with the exception of where an operable mechanical ventilation system is allowed.
All units must include a water closet, a lavatory, a bathtub and a shower, and residents must have access to hot and cold running water. All units must be able to maintain a temperature of 70 degrees and all heating and cooling facilities must be operable.
No more than one family can reside in a unit and no more than two persons per each bedroom, plus one additional tenant, are allowed to live in the apartment, under the new ordinance. For example, three residents could live in a one-bedroom apartment, five in a two bedroom and seven in a three bedroom.
Note – Information on Riverstone Residential knowingly exposing tenants to extreme amounts of mold toxins at Toxic Mold Infested Jefferson Lakes Apartments in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. katy