Follow Fresnoland’s reporting
Fresnoland, a team of journalists reporting on housing, water and neighborhood inequality at The Fresno Bee, is reporting on the city’s failure to protect renters from unhealthy conditions in low-income housing. Read the stories and follow this investigation here.
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A majority of Fresno residents — 54% — are renters, according to census data, and that statistic is likely growing as the average home price is $291,000 and out of reach for the majority who live in the city.
That means, a majority of Fresnans rely on landlords to provide healthy living conditions and on the city code enforcement to ensure their homes are habitable.
Property owners and landlords are legally required to provide safe and livable housing — which includes heat, hot and running water, doors and windows that lock, proper seals, electrical systems and lighting, working smoke detectors, mailboxes that lock, a unit with no mold and no pest infestations. A full list of legal requirements can be found here.
When a waterline breaks or there’s a pest infestation, tenants do not always have quick access to a solution and are at the mercy of landlords or property managers. But if those responsible don’t take charge, that could mean tenants live in unhealthy situations, unsure of what to do from there.
That’s where the city of Fresno’s code enforcement can come into play. Fresno City code enforcement is an agency that regulates everything from zoning codes to housing maintenance codes, from graffiti to dilapidated rental units.
“If there is an issue that is not being addressed by the landlord or they cannot get a hold of the landlord, they can certainly file a complaint with code enforcement,” said Rodney Horton, manager for Fresno City Code Enforcement’s Housing & Neighborhood Revitalization. “The landlord, the owner, the property manager … certainly responds to code enforcement.”
Every tenant has the right to file a complaint with code enforcement, yet many Fresno city residents are unaware of the steps they can take or the protections in place to keep them in safe housing.
Below is what you need to know about filing a complaint about rental housing with Fresno city code enforcement:
What are within my legal rights as a tenant if a landlord is not making repairs after I notified them?
If habitability codes are not being met, tenants have the legal right to do the following:
Call code enforcement.
Pay for repairs themselves and deduct the cost.
Move out without notice.
Low-income renters seeking free legal advice can call Central California Legal Services.
Can a landlord retaliate/evict me if I call code enforcement?
No, that is illegal.
It is illegal for landlords to evict, harass, or raise the rent as retaliation for tenants asserting their rights.
That being said, code enforcement cannot prevent evictions. They do not handle civil cases.
During an investigation of one Fresno apartment complex, The Bee found that the landlord told code enforcement on three occasions that the tenant who complained was being evicted and the city agency did not intervene or ask if the eviction was retaliatory.
If you think you’re being evicted for calling code enforcement or if you need of free legal aid or advice, call Central California Legal Services at 800-675-8001.
Can I report rent hikes or price gouging to code enforcement?
Yes. Price gouging, defined on FresGo’s website as “raising the price of essential goods, services and lodging by more than 10% after an emergency is declared” is illegal and can be reported to code enforcement.
Annual rent increases are also capped at 5% plus the rate of inflation under AB 1482, California’s statewide rent law that went into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
Violations to coronavirus-related emergency orders, such as the rent moratorium, can also be reported.
To file a report, go to FresGO.
How do I file a complaint with code enforcement?
If there is an unresolved repair or potential code violation, take photos of the issue and document what happened and when it started happening.
Then file a complaint with Fresno’s code enforcement by calling 559-621-8400 or visiting their website. Violations can also be written and delivered to the address below:
City of Fresno, City Attorney’s Office
2600 Fresno Street
Fresno, CA 93721
According to the code enforcement website, to report a violation, here’s what you’ll need:
The property address.
A description of the potential violation.
You will need to report your name, address, and phone number so code enforcement can contact you if needed. This information will be kept confidential.
Information about how long the violation has been going on.
The length of time you have observed the situation.
What happens once I file a complaint?
Once you file a complaint with code enforcement, a code enforcement officer will contact you and your landlord to schedule an inspection. During the pandemic, inspections were moved to a virtual format.
Code enforcement officers respond to complaints based on the “impact of the violation on the community,” according to the office’s website. If there are serious health risks, the complaint will be given top priority, otherwise it will be investigated in the order that code enforcement receives the complaint.
Code enforcement will then either confirm that the issue is in the process of being corrected, for example the landlord has ordered a missing part for a broken water heater, or officers will inspect the premises and issue a letter requiring issues to be resolved in 18 to 30 days. Code enforcement will then follow up with a re-inspection or require photo confirmation that the issue was fixed.
How soon does a landlord need to fix issues?
Legally, landlords have 18 to 30 days to resolve violations once they receive a notice of violation from code enforcement, according to Horton.
However, Horton told The Bee the goal is “to get the issue addressed as fast as possible in a reasonable time period to ensure safety and quality of life for the tenant.”
When should I call code enforcement?
Horton said typically people attempt to fix issues with their landlord or property manager prior to calling code enforcement.
“If you have an issue, bring it to your property manager, landlord, or the property owner as soon as possible,” Horton said. “Don’t live in that condition for as long as you possibly can for fear of your rent going up or being evicted or some other retaliatory action.”
Regardless of when a person reports the issue, code enforcement will inspect the unit.
If I’m in the process of eviction, can I still report code violations?
Yes. Code violations must be addressed whether or not a tenant is being evicted.
Horton said some people wait to contact code enforcement once they’ve been served an eviction notice or are moving from the unit, which means they lived in unsafe conditions while renting. He advised that people alert the landlord or code enforcement as soon as the issue arises.
What can code enforcement do if my landlord still doesn’t fix the issue?
If repairs aren’t made, code enforcement can issue citations to the landlord, abate the property or in some particular cases, code enforcement can petition for receivership.
Citations: Code enforcement can issue the landlord or property owner a citation if they do not fix or make a reasonable effort to fix an issue reported and documented by code enforcement within an 18 to 30 day window.
Abatement: If a property is left in disrepair, code enforcement can board up a building or eliminate any immediate hazards at the owner’s expense.
Receivership: The county could petition the court to appoint a caretaker of a property that has no one around to take ownership. Horton said this happens more commonly with single-family homes and is often the case if someone left the home to their next of kin.
What if I deny entrance to a maintenance worker?
Landlords must give tenants a 24-hour notice of entry, even for repairs, unless the issue is an emergency (for example, flooding).
However, if a tenant received a 24-hour notice and still denied a maintenance person entry, code enforcement will close the case whether or not the issue was repaired, Horton said.
“I’ve never quite understood why someone would make a complaint to code enforcement and then not allow entry,” Horton said.
Tenants during The Bee’s investigation into Manchester Arms said they have denied maintenance people entry for reasons including personal safety and a lack of 24-hour notice of entry.
What do I do if issues are not resolved after calling code enforcement?
A review of code enforcement documents and interviews with tenants in a recent Bee investigation found that Fresno city’s code enforcement at times did not follow up to check if necessary repairs were made or hold the landlord to deadlines they had set.
Fresno City’s code enforcement unit is overseen by the City Attorney’s Office. If issues are going unresolved even after calling code enforcement, you can contact your city council representative at (559) 621-8000. To find what district you live in, visit the city’s Council District Locator.
Does code enforcement inspect rentals annually?
It depends. In addition to complaint-based inspections, the Code Enforcement Dept. conducts inspections as part of the city’s Rental Housing Improvement Program.
The program, which launched in 2017, is not common across California cities. Through the program, a handful of units at a property are inspected, and depending on the results, the apartment complex will be placed in one of three tiers: re-inspection every five years, every two years or about every year.
Code enforcement will still hold inspections after complaints from tenants are made.
How many people work in code enforcement? Is it adequately staffed?
According to the Fresno Housing Registry, there are about 85,000 rental units in Fresno alone. The Fresno City Code Enforcement Department has 62 enforcement officers, according to Horton.
Horton said the city is “always assessing staffing levels based on needs, priorities, and policy direction.”
How does code enforcement support elderly or disabled homeowners who get cited?
Horton said inspectors “routinely connect property owners with community-based organizations who can help bring the property into compliance. ”Issuing citations is a “last resort,” Horton said.
What are some other resources for housing or rent assistance?
Fresno Emergency Rental Assistance Program: call (559) 621-6801
When to call: If you lost income during COVID-19 and need help paying past due rent.
Fresno Housing Authority: call (559) 443-8400
When to call: If you are in need of a Section 8 voucher or other housing subsidy, or if your landlord isn’t making repairs and you are receiving assistance from Fresno Housing.
Fresno Housing Authority emergency maintenance: call (559) 443-8400
When to call: If you receive a housing subsidy or voucher from Fresno Housing, you can call and alert them of any issue that requires maintenance. They also conduct annual housing inspections.
CORRECTION: Correction: This article has been updated to include the correct phone number for Fresno City Council. To reach Fresno City Council call (559) 621-8000.