City Launches Anti-Slum Agency
Sitting casually on a desk in the nondescript offices of the city’s Housing Department, Mayor Richard Riordan on Tuesday signed into law the most important anti-slum reform in Los Angeles history: the creation of a unit intended to ferret out blighted apartments across the city.
“Every human being in the city has the right to live in quality housing,” Riordan told a group of 14 inspectors who will form the core of the new city program. “And you’re in the front lines of doing that.”
The ordinance creates the first city office to focus exclusively on housing inspections. About 50 additional inspectors will be hired under the $8-million program, which will be funded by a $1 monthly fee to be paid by renters.
The new code enforcement unit of the Housing Department will conduct routine inspections of all 700,000 rental units in the city, a process expected to take about three years. Landlords will receive at least 30 days notice before inspectors arrive.
Before the City Council adopted the law June 30, housing inspections had been conducted only when tenants called the city with complaints. That system allowed slum conditions to fester in the poorest neighborhoods of Los Angeles, critics said.
Although it will be several weeks before the ordinance takes effect, Riordan celebrated the signing of the law by attending a “roll call” meeting of inspectors assigned since January to a pilot proactive inspection effort.
Echoing the concerns of landlords who fear the new city unit will become the scourge of property owners, Riordan urged the inspectors to use common sense when visiting rental properties.
“Your job is not to punish landlords, but to raise the quality of life of the tenants,” the mayor said.
Later, Riordan briefly joined one inspector and a bevy of city bureaucrats on a visit to three rundown duplexes on West 23rd Street just south of downtown, including one where four families lived cramped in a converted attic.
As he attempted to follow inspector Louis Aranda into the first apartment, Riordan saw firsthand the sort of suspicious reception the city’s newest code enforcers are likely to face again and again.
“Hold it!” a man shouted at the mayor as he tried to walk through the door. “What agency do you represent? Don’t go up there without permission!”
Assured by one resident of the unit that such permission had been granted, the man--a friend of one of the tenants--allowed the mayor and the inspectors to proceed.
“I’m shocked,” Riordan said after he’d visited his third unit in the dilapidated complex. Paint flaked from two of the buildings, trash was piled up in the basement of one structure, and all had rickety wooden stairs that creaked and swayed as the mayor and his entourage stepped on them.
Informed that some of the tenants were paying as much as $250 for tiny one-room units, Riordan said: “They’re paying more per square foot than you would in Marina del Rey.”
Several tenants appeared eager to share their complaints about the apartments with the inspectors and the mayor.
Xoila Dominguez, 68, pointed out the cracks in her walls, a leaking roof and crumbling stairs that she said had caused her daughter to take a serious fall.
“It’s good that they’re here,” Dominguez said of the inspectors. “The owner has disappeared.”