Three years after the city of Fresno launched a proactive rental housing inspection program, code enforcement officers inspected 7,704 registered rental units. Most of them failed initial inspection.

The program is meant to protect renters from living in chronic substandard housing conditions and alleviate the burden of reporting issues from renters. While a vast majority of the units that failed initial inspections have since been brought into compliance, a lack of follow-up on failed properties such as Manchester Arms permitted unsafe conditions to continue.

The current policy, as written, doesn’t dictate a timeline for how long city officials have to conduct a compliance re-inspection at a property that fails an initial inspection. As a result, it could be years before a property is re-inspected or placed into the policy’s tier system, which determines how frequently a property undergoes another baseline inspection. Meanwhile, renters are living in substandard conditions.

The city is currently in the process of re-inspecting a backlog of properties that were delayed due to a pause on in-unit inspections due to COVID-19, according to Rodney Horton, Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Manager for Code Enforcement.

What current policy requires

Implemented in January 2018, the Rental Housing Improvement Act shifted oversight of the city’s Code Enforcement department from the mayor to the City Council and mandated code enforcement officers to randomly inspect a percentage of all Fresno rental units for health and safety violations.

Each inspected property is then placed into a ranked tier based on if they passed inspection or not and if the property owner owes fees to the city. The tier system also details what property owners must do to be in the clear.

Although the policy requires properties to be placed into tiers, that does not always happen in a timely manner as The Bee found out during an investigation of Manchester Arms in March 2021. Code enforcement officers and City Attorney Doug Sloan said this was in part due to COVID-19.

“The policy actually should’ve worked, code enforcement should have followed it and made sure the changes were made,” said Adam Levine, adviser with Faith in the Valley. “That wasn’t a failure of policy. It was a failure of implementation.”

How far the baseline inspection program has gone

According to the city, 30,729 rental properties (86,926 total rental units) are registered with the city of Fresno as of late April. Some rental properties and units are exempted from baseline inspections, either because they were built within the last 10 years or because they are inspected by other housing agencies, including the Fresno Housing Authority.

As of May 21, Code Enforcement’s proactive team has inspected 7,704 registered rental units and has completed exterior inspections at 3,430 properties through the baseline program, according to Horton.

Code enforcement did not answer questions on how many properties have undergone a baseline inspection.

Of the 7,704 units inspected to date, 6,626 initially failed and needed correction. As of May 21, 5,304 of the units that needed corrective action have come into compliance, according to Horton.

Code enforcement did not respond to questions regarding whether units that came into compliance were re-inspected by code enforcement officers or if the enforcement office accepted property owners’ evidence of compliance instead.

A remainder of 1,322 units are still in need of corrective actions, according to Horton. Horton and the City Attorney’s Office did not respond to several requests for information about how many properties still need to be reinspected after a failed baseline inspection.

In an emailed response to The Bee, Horton stated that the city is “working through the tiering process to access, inspect, generate correction notices and process proofs of corrections for those properties in order to assign them a tier” for the 1,322 units that have not yet come into compliance.

The city did not respond to multiple requests for information on how many units fall under each tier.


Re-inspection frequency

Tier qualifications

How properties change tiers

Tier 1

  • Not re-inspected for at least five years.

  • Property owners qualify for the Self-Certification Program which allows for landlords to submit records of annual inspections they conduct themselves.

  • Only 10% of self-certified properties are inspected annually.

  • Property passed initial inspection or corrected any issues within 30 days of the initial inspection.

  • The property owner does not owe any fines or fees to the city.

The property could be moved down a tier if a unit at the property fails a random inspection or if two or more Notice and Orders for serious health and safety violations are issued within a year.

Tier 2

  • Reinspected every two years.

  • Inspectors can refer property to Code Enforcement’s reactive division or the Anti-Slum Task Force.

  • Failed an initial inspection and compliance re-inspection.

  • Some code violations.

  • Owner is delinquent on fees, penalties or taxes for longer than 90 days.

If the property passes two consecutive inspections, is in compliance with all City codes, and is current on all fees it may be reclassified into Tier 1.

Tier 3

  • Reinspected annually.

  • Every unit can be inspected.

  • Inspectors can refer property to Code Enforcement’s reactive division or the Anti-Slum Task Force.

  • Failed a baseline inspection and two or more re-inspections.

  • Owner is delinquent on fees, penalties or taxes for longer than 120 days.

The property owner must be current on all fees, all units must be brought into compliance and a percentage of units must pass baseline inspections for three consecutive years in order for the property to be reclassified into Tier 1.

Manchester Arms investigation reveals policy gaps

While current policy requires that each property be placed into a tier, following an initial inspection, it does not explicitly say how soon Code Enforcement must conduct a “compliance re-inspection” if a property fails a baseline inspection.

The policy also states that property owners must provide proof of corrections or ask for a courtesy re-inspection within 30 days of receiving notice of a failed baseline inspection. Even then, policy states that only 10% of the submitted proof of correction forms will be inspected randomly on an annual basis.

A lack of a clear timeline for re-inspection of properties that failed baseline inspections allowed for Manchester Arms tenants to live in unsafe housing.

Inez Hernandez, former Manchester Arms tenant, said Code Enforcement knew of issues persisting at the apartment complex owned by Joel Gutierrez but “failed” to address them.

Hernandez, who moved into Manchester Arms in August 2020, was evicted by default in March 2021. Three months after moving in, she stopped payment of rent because Gutierrez did not address a list of problems in her apartment, including a broken heater, mold and leaking floor. The issues continued up until her eviction March 29.

“If code enforcement would have been on this, it wouldn’t be like this,” Hernandez told The Bee in March, referencing issues in her apartment that Code Enforcement was aware of.

Violations for mold, unsealed windows, missing or faulty smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, pest infestations and evidence of leaks were found during baseline inspections in January and February of 2020, according to documents obtained by a public records request in March.

Code Enforcement did not re-inspect the property until March 2021 when The Bee inquired about code enforcement activity at Manchester Arms, nor did Code Enforcement, as of March 2021, place Manchester Arms into a tier, as policy requires. Horton said in a March interview that the delay was in part due to COVID-19.

Code Enforcement conducted a baseline inspection at Manchester Arms again in April 2021, and the complex failed once again, resulting in the complex being placed on the city’s slum list — yet the property was still not assigned a tier as of May 18, according to Horton.

Levine said Manchester Arms showed how the Rental Housing Improvement Act could have worked, had Code Enforcement followed through with a re-inspection. He said RHIA led code enforcement officers to determine that the complex had health and safety code violations, but they never followed through to place the complex within a re-inspection tier or to ensure that all issues were addressed within a timely manner.

Fresno City Council Vice President Nelson Esparza said the Manchester Arms investigation highlighted that the existing policy had “bolts that need to be tightened,” leading him to co-sponsor an ordinance proposing several amendments to the RHIA. The proposal is likely to pass.

However, the proposed amendments do not specifically address lapses in code enforcement’s re-inspections, nor do they identify a plan to ensure the policies are fully enforced.

“Is (the Rental Housing Improvement Act) serving its intended purpose?” Esparza asked at a May 12 news conference. “I think the situation that occurred at Manchester Arms and the fact that properties like that continue to exist has answered that question for all of us very loud and clear.”

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