The issue of mandatory property inspections in Isla Vista has once again surfaced at a recent town hall meeting only to spawn misinformation on the part of tenants and property owners alike. Third District County Supervisor Gail Marshall’s office is now caught in the middle trying to quell the rumors. The issue merely needs mention and immediately property owners begin to talk of “big government” and “big brother,” while the anti-landlord contingent makes claims that the current system doesn’t do enough.
The current, nonmandatory housing inspection program is a lot better than what was once in place, which was nothing. As a longtime resident of Isla Vista, it is my belief that a mandatory inspection program would not be feasible for this community, but I will tell you that a program such as the existing one is a necessity. What was needed for the community was a program that would benefit both tenants and property owners by exhibiting a certain amount of fairness to both sides. Under the current housing inspection program, both sides get equal access to fairness via procedural simplicity and accuracy in the inspection processes. The current complaint-driven system assures that the housing inspector will only come out to investigate if the tenants of a rented property make a report.
Due to the simplicity of its design, a phone call is all it takes. Tenants would have you believe that the complaint process is complex, but if you know how to use a phone the access is there. There is no need for excessive evidence of health and safety code violations or structural deficiencies. The housing inspector knows how to differentiate between basic aesthetic or maintenance issues and health and safety code violations. For example, a grimy bathtub is nowhere close to being in the same league as a collapsing sub floor, and this would be noted. Landlords would have you believe that the housing inspector would consider basic maintenance issues as health and safety code violations. Not true.
It is a basic and effective program, but the misconceptions are out there. Some property owners would have you think that the current housing inspection program costs a lot of money, but in effect, all it costs is approximately $35 per year, per unit – this amounts to only $2.92 each month. The property owner pays this fee and argues that it is the reason why rents are high. Once again, not true.
My only complaint is that of potential retribution or retaliation from property owners against tenants who filed a complaint, but this is not a fault of the system because confidentiality is maintained throughout the filing process.
In all, the current program is sufficient considering the residential density of the area and the variance in living situations. Mandatory inspections do not cater to fairness for tenants or property owners and will not solve many of the community’s sub-standard housing issues for the following reasons. To inspect every property in Isla Vista would take an army of inspectors, it would take a hell of a lot of time and it would also subject law abiding property owners with no history of complaints to unnecessary inspections.
While the issue of safe housing in Isla Vista is complex, it is my belief that the current inspection program reduces much of the complexity while providing safe housing for tenants. It also focuses on units where problems actually exist. There are property owners in Isla Vista that do qualify as “slumlords” in every sense of the word, and these are the people who should be targeted. There are also plenty of tenants who create substandard conditions in their dwellings as well. But this doesn’t apply to everyone.
In my 12 years living in this town, 10 of those years have been spent residing at the same studio apartment on Sueno. My landlords have been the greatest and most giving people I’ve ever had the pleasure of renting from. Any time there was ever anything that my unit needed, they provided it at no charge and at times even went on a proactive approach to fix anything that needed repairs. The rental of apartment units is a cost versus necessity driven market, but it doesn’t have to be one of mistrust between any of the parties involved. Mandatory inspections will bring about plenty of mistrust between all parties concerned. Personally, I would like to see more education for tenants about the existing program and its benefits. As it currently stands, all that exists is misinformation and this does nobody any good whatsoever.
I love the place where I live, otherwise I wouldn’t live here. But I’m also glad to know that a process exists to improve my living situation if the situation warrants changes. So far no changes are needed, but if they were, the phone is within reach.
Henry Sarria is a longtime Isla Vista resident.