Not enough hands on deck

Local community organization alleges housing-code enforcement underfunding is impacting Long Beach tenants

A local community organization, Long Beach Residents Empowered (LiBRE), has claimed that the City’s code-enforcement bureau is underfunded and understaffed. The group alleges that lengthy response times to complaint-based calls and the long-winded completion of an inspection program are reasons to believe that the City department that oversees housing violations is in need of more funding.

Three years ago, the Long Beach Development Services introduced an ordinance called the Proactive Rental Housing Inspection Program (PRHIP) to maintain citywide livability standards and City Municipal Code compliance.

Oscar Orci, Long Beach Development Services deputy director, said the program is a labor-intensive effort to inspect 75,000 four-unit rental properties citywide.

It’s an expansive undertaking, which Jorge Rivera, LiBRE program director, believes the City is not well prepared to carry out in a timely manner.

During a phone interview Tuesday with the Signal Tribune, Rivera said that it can take complaint-based calls from tenants about housing violations three to four weeks before the City can address them. He also claimed that PRHIP was originally going to take the City “a year’s time” to complete and that city officials have expanded that time frame to seven years.

“If you call code enforcement right now, and you ask them, ‘What is the response time on complaint-based inspection requests?’ they’re going to tell you it’s from three to four weeks,” Rivera said. “That to us signifies that they don’t have the adequate staff to be able to respond to the amount of the need in the community.”

During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Wednesday morning, Orci said that he did not recall any legislation that stated the PRHIP would be completed within a year’s time, and that he believes housing-code enforcement is not underfunded.

He said that the PRHIP does not have a concrete schedule, but that city officials were aiming to inspect 75,000 properties in five to six years.

Orci explained that housing-violation inspections operate on a tier system. First-tier issues are life-safety concerns, which are prioritized first.

Not having hot water or heat in an individual’s dwelling during winter are considered first-tier concerns, according to Orci. He said it may take longer for inspectors to address complaint-based calls when issues are not categorized in the first tier.

He said that PRHIP inspections are currently undergoing in the most challenging areas of the city first.

“It’s intensive but well worth it,” the deputy director said.

Orci also explained that the City is currently preparing for the Fiscal Year 2019 proposed budget, which Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Patrick West introduced on July 31. In the budget, under economic development, Garcia proposed funding for two building-combination-inspector positions to “maintain inspection response [times].”

Rivera said some tenants have approached him through LiBRE and raised concerns about insufficient housing inspections, despite the City’s efforts to address housing-code violations in a timely manner.

One of Rivera’s contacts, Troy Ruff, lived on the 700 block of Pacific Avenue before he was evicted. During a phone interview with the Signal Tribune Wednesday afternoon, Ruff said the housing-code violation offices closed his case for a repair complaint he made last year, despite him claiming that no repairs were made.

He said there was mildew near his sink, electrical issues throughout the dwelling and an unstable patio.

A letter from an inspector that came to his dwelling indicated that repairs were indeed made, according to Ruff, causing housing-code inspectors to close the case.

Upon his demand, an inspector returned to his apartment for a second time. Ruff claimed the inspector approached his front door after waiting in his car for 15 minutes and left a note.

“He came to my door, didn’t knock, but he left a note that [read], ‘Sorry I missed you,’” Ruff said. “My neighbor was watching him, and I was taking pictures of him because I was waiting for him to knock. I took a picture of him sitting in his car for 15 minutes.”

Ruff said he went to the inspection offices again to make a complaint, and they assigned an inspector to return once more on June 27.

Ruff claimed that he did not receive a new inspection report for his previous dwelling after the third visit from the inspector.

Rivera’s second contact, Gabriel Ortiz-Sanchez, currently lives in a duplex apartment in the 400 block of East 59th Street. He is currently undergoing a legal dispute with his landlord over housing repairs.

He mentioned that the City sent an inspector to respond to his complaint-based issue about a faulty water heater in February. Due to his lawsuit, Ortiz-Sanchez could not share details on his situation, however, he told the Signal Tribune that the water heater had not been fixed by press time.

Upon receiving various input from residents about the inspection process, Rivera told the Signal Tribune that LiBRE has reached out to Orci about the concerns of underfunding. Orci confirmed with the Signal Tribune that the two have met, and Orci also mentioned that Rivera was once a City employee.

“They’re not willing, or not allowed, to share with us any information, really,” Rivera said. “We were asking them how much more staff do [they] need to be able to adequately inspect the units. They weren’t able to get us any numbers at that time.”