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Slumlords Beware: Mayor Budgets for Special Enforcement Team

The mayor's proposal could mean the city will begin treating substandard housing the way it treats illegal marijuana dispensaries and foreclosures.

Slumlords beware: Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s draft budget is out Monday, and it includes money for a team dedicated to rooting out problem landlords.

Faulconer wants to fund four new code enforcement officers to focus on property owners who maintain substandard conditions in their rentals. From the mayor’s budget proposal:

This team will be assigned to specifically target geographic areas known to contain substandard housing problems to proactively ensure compliance with housing standards as defined in the Municipal Code and the California Health and Safety Code.

The action comes after Faulconer told KPBS he would “send a clear message” to landlords who repeatedly violate state and municipal housing laws. His comments were in response to a joint Voice of San Diego and KPBS investigation that detailed roach infestations, asthma-inducing mold and gas leaks in several Barrio Logan and City Heights apartments owned by one landlord.

Despite a lengthy history of tenant complaints against Bankim Shah, the city’s code enforcement division failed to detect widespread problems in his buildings and said it couldn’t build a substantive case against him.

“With our current staffing levels, we don’t really have an ability to be proactive, where we’re going out searching around for things,” Deputy Director of Code Compliance Mike Richmond said in December.

The mayor’s proposal could mean the city will begin treating substandard housing the way it treats illegal medical marijuana dispensaries and foreclosures, two frequent targets of city code enforcement actions. Coincidentally, code enforcement had proactively gone after Shah for a dispensary in one of his buildings.

The new enforcement plan for substandard housing, which would cost $333,891, must go through budget reviews at City Council and in the community. Final approval would come in June.

Meanwhile, code enforcement officers are wrapping up training that will let them respond to tenant complaints about rodent and insect infestations. Previously, tenants had few options for help with the problem. The city was referring such calls to San Diego County inspectors, who told tenants they don’t have jurisdiction over properties in the city. A 2013 law by state Sen. Ben Hueso clarified those rules.

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