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Code Compliance making slow progress solving rental problems

Wednesday, June 4, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano

One city department that unexpectedly made headlines last year was Code Compliance. The City Council heard details about how the department is dealing with problems that have plagued apartment dwellers for years during last week’s budget session.


Council Member Chris Riley asked how things were going with a new city initiative to address “problem properties” in Austin.


Riley, along with Council Member Kathie Tovo, each put forth versions of a Rental registration Program late last year to deal with problem property owners and tighten up lax enforcement of safety regulations. (See Austin Monitor, Dec. 4, 2013)


“We are seeing substantial progress,” said Director Carl Smart, who said he had filled the additional positions added last year and they were already making an impact.


Smart said that a new repeat offenders program that focuses on property owners with repeat violations is “getting off the ground.”


“It’s a little slow, but it’s getting there,” said Smart. “We think it is going to be effective in dealing with, particularly, the worst of the worst of multifamily properties.”


Smart said that the multifamily inspection programs were already bringing results. He said the city is seeing an increase in the number of cases going to the Building and Standards Commission and Municipal Court.


“We’re not at the level we’d like to be at yet, but we are certainly making progress,” said Smart. “


Because some of the work on the rental initiatives will be done by a team comprised of people from across city departments, it’s unclear what the final cost will be. Smart explained that a report identifying areas of the city most in need of attention, best practices, and what the team will need would most likely come back to City Council in early summer.


“I, for one, would really like to have a very careful discussion about that as we consider the budget for 2015,” said Council Member Kathie Tovo. “I hope that will be a priority to get that report back to the Council in time to digest it and, if need be, consider it for the budget.”


In terms of unmet needs, Smart asked for practical support for some of the newer programs the city has adopted over the past several years.


For example, Smart explained that his department is not yet equipped to enforce the Universal Recycling Ordinance. He explained that the addition of three full-time employees would enable enforcement of the ordinance “starting now.” Those employees, and their equipment will cost the city $401,138.


In the meantime, Smart is launching a pilot program to address the recycling ordinance in order to get a sense of what will be needed and to – in Smart’s words – “get  this ordinance under control.” According to the recycling ordinance, all properties will be required to provide recycling to their tenants and employees by October 2017.


Smart also explained that they needed two more full-time employees to address the Rest Break Ordinance, which was adopted in 2010. That ordinance regulates rest breaks at construction sites.


Code Compliance is also hoping to add a dispatcher to their department. Though they have never had one, the addition of a dispatcher could help organize the department and reach out to others, especially in the case of emergencies.


Moving forward, Smart anticipates adding four new code compliance positions every year, from 2014-15 to 2018-19. He said the positions are needed to keep up with the growth in the city, and the correlating growth in his department’s workload.

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