The kitchen might seem like a strange place to store skateboards and Christmas decorations. But it’s a logical use of space for Karina Villanueva, because she can’t use the cabinets for food.
Anything that’s not double-bagged and tucked into a heavy-duty storage box or the refrigerator will have cockroaches crawling in it come morning.
These plastic food tubs are one of several common threads linking tenants throughout the city who spoke with KPBS and Voice of San Diego late last year for this joint investigation. All of them rent from Bankim Shah, a San Diego man who owns nearly 90 properties in the region and manages apartments for several others. His name rose to the top as one of San Diego’s worst offenders in a review of 2013 code compliance complaints.
Residents, neighbors and city staff have filed 62 complaints against him since 2001, about a third of them for conditions so bad state law says no one should be forced to live in them.
The complaints detail gas leaks, sewage backups, missing windows and armies of roaches, or as one attorney put it, “enough to carry the whole house away.”
We Stand Up For You. Will You Stand Up For Us?
There are several incompetent, unresponsive Departments in San Diego city government, including the Street Division, Stormwater and Parks and Recreation. This one, by far, heads the list.
Anyone who has tried to get Code Compliance to do it's job, and in a timely manner, will tell you horror stories. My wife is on our local Planning Board, and tells me matters referred by the board concerning setback violations, construction without permits, etc. are often simply not investigated. This bunch needs a thorough housecleaning. If our mayor is a serious aspirant to statewide office, he'd better fix this chronic problem.
As chair of the College Area Community Council’s Code Enforcement Committee, I laud this report. The College Area is also frustrated by the “whack a mole” approach to Code Enforcement. The College Area has 700 High Turnover High Occupancy rentals (HTHO aka “minidorms”) While “our” violations generally don’t reach the health hazards reported in this story, HTHO owners regularly violate city codes and violations come disproportionately from owners of multiple properties. Just one example: an owner with 12 properties has had 39 code violations. Clearly they know the rules and are ignoring them. CACC is well aware that Code Enforcement is short staffed and we welcome Mayor Faulconer’s pledge to increase staffing. Our position is and has been that multiple violations by a single owner be treated collectively and have more serious consequences. Code Enforcement officers should not have to revisit and revisit a single owner’s properties for the same violation. Such an owner and all properties should be dealt with as a single case with much higher penalties for repeat vioations. Hopefully that would encourage compliance and increase Code Enforcement efficiency.
Why is anyone surprised that government housing is low quality? These are just the next generation hosting projects.
Government is paying for them and responsible for oversight. Since government is always a low quality operator, the service and quality is low.
If government bought people cards and was responsible for their upkeep can you imagine how crappy this cars would be?
The solution is to get government out of the housing business. Let the free market operate.
@Michael Robertson The apartments shown in this report are not government housing. They are privately owned. There is actually almost no government owned housing in San Diego. Almost all of the money that the federal government supplies to low income tenants comes through the Section 8 voucher program administered by the Housing Commission.
I was really honored to be able to participate in this story. Megan did a wonderful job exposing a serious problem. I have a lot of thoughts on the subject, but I can't fit them here. For anyone interested, here is the link to my blog post.
How come our Mayor will call a news conference and assail the Chargers for bad faith in handling the ball on talks about a football stadium but is silent in the face of this kind of bad faith in his own Code Enforcement Department?
Is it possible that a class action lawsuit is needed to assure that tenants in this City receive the support they need to make certain Code Enforcement address abuses by landlords such as Mr. Shah?
An excellent story, which unfortunately only touches the surface of one slumlord.
As a lawyer defending tenants in eviction proceedings, I can attest that the problems are not limited to San Diego, or even to the slow enforcement of existing statutes and ordinances by San Diego Code Enforcement Officers. In La Mesa, Code Enforcement has never, not once, inspected a property in a timely manner. They actually write a letter and ask permission, upon which the landlord quickly applies cosmetic fixes. County inspectors will condemn property, forcing the tenants to vacate and ordering relocation expenses, but there is no enforcement mechanism to force payment; the effect is homelessness (sometimes of entire families).
And San Diego? They sometimes are more interested in recovering their fines and permit fees for work rather than ensuring that problems are actually corrected.
And when matters make it into Court the judges routinely find that habitability issues are not "significant enough." Judge Meyer ruled that a red tagged heater (SDG&E refused to light it as unsafe) was not a habitability issue in San Diego County; "if it gets cold you can buy a space heater." He ruled that rats scampering in the attic at night did not need to be abated because "they're everywhere; they live in the citrus trees and the trees are everywhere." Despite statutory and regulatory guidelines for landlords, the supply of proper housing is either too limited or too expensive.
Great report, Megan. Anyone who has attempted to get Neighborhood Code Compliance to take enforcement action has stories like these, but some of this stuff is simply inexcusable. This organization badly needs a shakeup, and someone needs to set priorities.
It's sad to hear that the enforcers in city hall aren't even aware of the laws they are suppose to enforce. I'm all for supporting the government to help strengthen the community, but this level of incompetence only adds fuel to the Tea Party fire.
It's funny to hear the lawyers blaming a lack of resources to take these slumlords to court. Have they forgotten they took an average guy to court for making chalk drawings on the sidewalk?
Where's Bonnie Dumanis?
There's clearly behavior here that could be criminally prosecuted. I'm not an attorney, but it fraud & child endangerment charges seem like they could easily be filed.
The tools exist within the current San Diego municipal code to fine this alleged slumlord millions of dollars (over the entire expanse of his property holdings) and/or prosecute him criminally - a little jail time can go a long way in changing a bad actor's perspective.
In fact, code enforcement can use its investigations to start what is known as an abatement procedure on each of the delinquent properties. Per San Diego Municipal Code section 121.0401 et.seq., the dangerous and substandard conditions described in this article authorize the City to relocate the tenants and either bring the property up to code or demolish it altogether all at the expense of the landlord. Of course, this takes work, including hearings and possible several court appearances. But given the expense to the landlord in such an instance (i.e. hiring an attorney), oftentimes just this threat is enough to force a slumlord into action.
With all respect to Mike Richmond, whom I know to be a good and honorable person, and Gabriela Brannan, whom I do not know, the problem is not a lack of resources and evidence. At least, not completely. The difficulty I have observed is a lack of priorities. My experience has been that a person accused of having an overheight fence is given the same attention as a slumlord running a roach-infested dwelling.
Most recently, marijuana dispensaries and AirBnB rentals have caught the attention of the Code Enforcement division. Yet, hundreds, if not thousands, of substandard dwellings continue to exist in this city. Prioritizing the truly bad actors could make a real difference in how this city runs and hows its entire population lives.
To that end, my suggestion would be that the City Council create a policy which delineates the order of priority for enforcement. With the vote of five Councilmembers and the stroke of several pens, poor folks in this town can get a leg up and slumlords can be forced to fly right. So who wants to be the hero?
@Felix Tinkov "my suggestion would be that the City Council create a policy which delineates the order of priority for enforcement. With the vote of five Councilmembers and the stroke of several pens, poor folks in this town can get a leg up and slumlords can be forced to fly right."
Excellent observations and suggestion. The City Attorney has no problem using code enforcement mechanisms against politically disfavored targets; wouldn't it be wise to use that authority for the huge numbers of tenants affected by the slumlords in this County?