City Council Reviews Rental Inspection System
On December 12th, 2016, the City Council held a work session which included a presentation regarding the current rental inspection program for single and multi-family units in Denton. The meeting included a presentation by Community and Neighborhood Services Manager Lancine Bentley at the request of council member Kevin Roden. Roden was not available for comment, but Bentley spoke at the request of The Dentonite.
The agenda also included two articles written by the Denton Record Chronicle and the North Texas Daily reporting issues faced by tenants at their rental residences, including Scott Brown properties. The Community and Neighborhood Services office conducted a survey of twenty-two cities, including Lewisville and Flower Mound, to learn more about their rental inspection practices.
Based on the findings provided by the Community and Neighborhood Services Office, among the twenty-two cities surveyed, only three cities (Carrolton, Richardson, and San Marcos) require mandatory registration of rental properties in regards to interior inspections. Registration essentially requires that the information of the landlord or property manger be provided to the public.
Currently, in the city of Denton, tenants may submit a complaint via email to Community and Neighborhood Services after filling out a form found online. However, there are no mandatory inspections or required registration of properties by the city. Bentley stated in an interview with The Dentonite that complaints are investigated within 48 hours.
“If a violation is found the abatement time frame varies depending upon the severity of the violation. We have found that most violations are abated within two weeks,” Bentley said. “If a tenant makes a complaint and a violation is found, Community Improvement Services notifies the property manager, provides them information and photographs about the violation, and sets a time frame for correction.”
Bentley also addressed the issue of confidentiality for the renter filing the complaint, assuring that the information provided by the complainant isn’t shared with anyone. Bentley acknowledged concerns tenants may have with filing complaints against their landlords or property managers.
Bentley added: “It is likely the landlord will assume that the tenant in the rental unit made the complaint. However, it is against the law for a property manager to retaliate against a tenant for filing a complaint within six months of a complaint being filed.”
In order for tenants to protect themselves and hold landlords and property managers accountable, Bentley emphasized the need for tenants having in possession a signed copy of their lease prior to move-in. Tenants should also review the rights and responsibilities of both the person renting and the property manager or owner in maintaining livable conditions of the unit, and should request repairs as needed prior to move-in. These repairs should be documented in writing. Ultimately, Bentley stated that a tenant can request Community and Improvement Services to perform an inspection before or immediately after move-in, as well as at the tenant’s request.
Bentley concluded that the City Council would maintain the current system of request-based inspections by tenants. However, they did request the program to be more widely known by the public for tenants facing difficulties with their landlords or property managers.
However, one community member in attendance of the council’s work session, UNT associate English professor and community advocate Deborah Needleman Amintor, believes an improvement in the current rental inspect policy would offer greater protection to renters in Denton. Armintor also emphasized the need for a rental registration database that would allow potential tenants to learn if the property carries a history of problems, including bad management.
“Currently there are state laws about fair housing practices, but you can’t just find out without doing a public information request and even then I don’t know if you can get that information from a public information request. There’s no way if you’re a renter for you to find out if this property manager is a good property manager [outside of] asking around, seeing reviews],” Armintor said.
Armintor stated that currently, potential renters in Denton must resort to relying on information online and by word of mouth when finding a property to live in. She stressed that even in situations where property owners or mangers have been given bad press, tenants are usually searching for the best location for the best price.
“What this [mandatory rental registration for property owners and a city-maintained and advertised publicly accessible database] would do is provide an objective system whereby all rental properties in Denton would be inspected like how restaurants are inspected. You would see if this is a well-managed property,”
Armintor did cite potential issues with a suggested system of mandatory registration and a database.
She explained: “For me anyway, the biggest potential problem is if this is done it’s done right. So you don’t want standards [to be] too ridiculously high where people are getting points off for a paint chip missing or a spider web in the ceiling or not having the most up-to-date appliances. The point is ‘is this place safe and inhabitable’ and does the property manager or landlord respond well and in a timely manager to tenants' complaints. I personally think we need a program like this, but I’m not blind to the potential problems, and Council would have to be careful in drawing up a program like this and that they don’t make these mistakes.”
TWU senior Emily Nickles experienced her own set of challenges while renting from Scott Brown properties during the period between January and June 2016. She discovered the apartment through an online search on Trulia and Zillow when looking for a place to live during the spring semester.
“I hadn’t heard of any problems about Scott Brown Properties. Not until after, when I spoke with more student renters, did I start to hear a few horror stories here and there,” Nickles said.
While her own apartment was seemingly free of mold, she stated that the maintenance performed on the unit prior to move-in was minimal, and problems included dirty floors, poor insulation, and a major issue with roaches. Nickles explained that a major issue came forth after she moved out of the unit.
“It was impossible for me to get the deposit. Instead of splitting the check, they returned the deposit amount on check, which needed three signatures and my former roommate was out of the country at the time,” she said. “I needed the money and they wouldn’t just issue two separate checks. They also provided me with misinformation on several occasions which was frustrating to no end.”
Nickles was not aware at the time that Denton provides a rental inspector could investigate the problems she experienced during her time living in the unit. She agrees that a system of accountability would be useful in protecting tenants, especially regarding larger rental properties such as Scott Brown.
She elaborated: “I would like to believe that the problem lies at the top of the company rather than with the employees. The owners/businessmen set the standards for how they present their properties. Scott Brown is not interested in the state of what the property is in, they only care that the property gets rented and they get their share. If a place is unlivable it should be everyone’s problem and the landlord should be held accountable for fixing damages from previous tenants.”
Since her time living at Scott Brown, Nickles has learned more about her renter’s rights. She cautions people, especially students, to be aware of the practices of all rental properties in Denton.
“There are other property managers in Denton that function the same way. Be wary of what these property managers tell you. Look into things on your own, double check the laws surrounding rental agreements. Don’t let anybody try and take advantage of you and your money just because you’re a student. It’s your money, you have the power,” Nickles said.
For more information on tenants rights please visit the Texas Attorney General’s website.