Is Houston enforcing apartment safety inspections law?

November 30, 2010 4:13:25 PM PST
As we've reported for months, the city is forcing the Angel Ridge apartment complex to close. Everyone there will be gone by next Monday.

By state law, every Houston apartment complex is supposed to be inspected under a new program. But we wanted to know, is that happening?

Latasha Miller is raising one-month-old Anthony and her other two children at the Garden Oaks Place Apartments.

"I just moved in here Friday," she said.

But already, she's found problems. There are holes under the sink that go right outside. The sink itself didn't have hot water since she moved in, and it looks like the floor is ready to simply give in in some places.

"This is not what you want to bring your baby home to?" we asked Miller.

"No. Not at all," she responded.

But she's there, and according to city code, she deserves better. And so do her neighbors.

The problems extend beyond stuff that's hard to live with; it's dangerous. Stairwells are unsteady and the railings on balconies aren't sturdy.

"It's not holding, so if you lean too much on it, like my daughter is doing here, it could collapse," resident Anthony Parker said.

It's not like the issues are a secret. Three months ago, city inspectors told landlords to fix the place up by November 6 or everyone could be thrown out.

"They need to get a move on," Parker said.

The inspection in mid-August was part of a get tough city program designed to make apartment complexes safe for Houstonians. It was forced on the city by state law and came after the 2008 death of two children who fell off a collapsing stairwell at a southwest Houston apartment complex.

According to the law, city crews are supposed to inspect every apartment complex in the city. So far, they've visited 217 -- less than one a day.

Across the city, they're finding broken windows, exposed wires, tattered tarps, holey roofs, rotting wood and balconies in danger of falling.

But at a rate of just one complex a day, it'll take 14 years to inspect all the apartments in the city.

"I'd say we're making progress," said Mark Loethen with Acting Houston Building.

The city estimates there are more than 5,000 apartment complexes in Houston. But what happens when inspectors find problems and set deadlines for repairs to be made?

Common sense says if you set a deadline, maybe someone should follow up to see if the deadline's been met.

"Here we are two weeks after that. What's been fixed?" we asked Parker.

"Well, nothing," he said.

We visited the Garden Oaks Place Apartments on November 15 and found all sorts of repairs waiting to be made, including fixing the hot water, plugging all sorts of roach and rat holes.

"They should come and check behind the landlord to see if stuff is being corrected," another resident said.

"We're working with the new owners right now to get it fixed," Loethen said.

In this case, the complex was foreclosed on and the city gave the new owner until mid-December to make repairs -- four months after the problems were found.

These inspections are many times the last line of defense for renters without a lot of options, because there aren't many places Miller can go for $450 a month.

"Because where I stayed at first, I got put out," she said. "I didn't have no choice but to just come here."

The new property manager says his teams filled four dumpsters in the last three weeks to clean up the complex and already started making some repairs.

Structural repairs apparently start on Wednesday.

The city's invited us to watch this project as an example of how well the program can work.


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