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San Diego Mayor Calls For Special Derelict Housing Enforcement Team

Karina Villanueva shows KPBS and Voice of San Diego a photo of mold above her...

Photo by Brian Myers, Media Arts Center San Diego

Above: Karina Villanueva shows KPBS and Voice of San Diego a photo of mold above her shower on Nov. 20, 2014.

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Mayor Kevin Faulconer's proposal could mean the city will begin treating substandard housing the way it treats marijuana dispensaries and derelict foreclosures: proactively.

Derelict landlords beware: Mayor Kevin Faulconer's draft budget is out Monday and it includes money for a team dedicated to rooting out problem landlords.

Faulconer wants to fund four new code enforcement officers to focus on property owners who maintain substandard conditions in their rentals.

This team will be assigned to specifically target geographic areas known to contain substandard housing problems to proactively ensure compliance with housing standards as defined in the Municipal Code and the California Health and Safety Code.

The budget line item comes after Faulconer told KPBS he would "send a clear message" to landlords who repeatedly violate state and municipal housing laws. His comments were in response to a KPBS and Voice of San Diego investigation that detailed roach infestations, asthma-inducing mold and gas leaks in several Barrio Logan and City Heights apartments owned by one landlord.

Despite a lengthy history of tenant complaints against Bankim Shah, the city's code enforcement division failed to detect widespread problems in his buildings and said it couldn't build a substantive case against him.

"With our current staffing levels, we don't really have an ability to be proactive, where we're going out searching around for things," Deputy Director of Code Compliance Mike Richmond said in an interview in December.

But the investigation revealed Richmond's department had proactively gone after Shah for something else: an illegal medical marijuana dispensary.

At the request of City Council, code enforcement officers identified 103 illegal dispensaries in 2014. They similarly cracked down on banks that let foreclosed homes fall into disrepair.

The mayor's proposal could mean the city will begin treating substandard housing the way it treats dispensaries and foreclosures. Currently, enforcement officers only open substandard housing cases if a tenant complains. And they treat every case individually, even if the landlord has had problems before.

The new enforcement plan, which would cost $333,891, must go through budget reviews at City Council and in the community. Final approval would come in June.

Meanwhile, code enforcement officers are wrapping up training that will let them respond to tenant complaints about rodent and insect infestations. Previously, tenants had few options for help with the problem. The city was referring such calls to the county, which doesn't have jurisdiction over properties in the city of San Diego. A 2013 law by state Sen. Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, clarified those rules.

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