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San Antonio City Council discussing new apartment inspections

A city talk force has been working on a new 'Proactive Apartment Inspections' program. How much teeth could that program have?

SAN ANTONIO — The San Antonio City Council is working on a new "Proactive Apartment Inspections" program to deal with apartment code violations across the city. The council first met to discuss the program Tuesday at 6 p.m. in a special council meeting. 

San Antonio Development Services Deputy Director Amin Tohmaz spoke to KENS 5 reporter Marvin Hurst before the meeting on Monday. He outlined a few priorities for the program. 

"The main reason for this, in my opinion is basically to have more proactive inspections. Right now we respond with reactive calls. If a tenant has an issue they call us," Tohmaz said. 

Unfortunately, Tohmaz said some tenants will never reach out to the city because they are afraid of their landlord. That's why, he said, the new, proactive nature of the program will be so important. 

"A lot of tenants are afraid of retaliation. This program makes it more proactive. even if we don't get calls we will do inspections at random times, Tohmaz said. 

Tohmaz told KENS 5 the council had already approved hiring two additional code enforcement officers to help implement the program. 

When we followed up on Tuesday,  Ximena Copa-Wiggins said the program was still on "square one" and the council discussion was going to determine how it will develop going forward. The program could involve creating new city ordinances, but there were currently no drafts to share. 

Tohmaz told us Development Services previously have the city three options. The first was to increase the number of code enforcement officers in order to do inspections. The second option, he said, was to create a new ordinance designed to "manage the bad actors or owners that don't repair things on time." The third option would create an ordinance that registers every apartment in San Antonio.  

Tohmaz said the council previously decided to start with the first option and meet again to work out the second one as well. 

While nothing is on the books as of yet, Lone Star Legal Aid Managing Attorney Eric Kwartler told us code enforcement can, absolutely, be an effective tool make apartments address health issues.  

"We advise tenants to call code enforcement all the time," Kwartler said. "Landlords don't necessarily do this on purpose to tenants...it's possible that they don't know the extent of the problem or that they didn't really want to fix it but then they or forced to."

But Quartler also told us getting code enforcement involved can be a "double-edged sword." If an apartment unit has too many violations, he said code enforcement could decide the tenant must leave for safety reasons and they may or may not have a place to go.

"Code enforcement may end up deciding that the tenant can no longer be in their home," Quartler said. "If they red-tag a place it is uninhabitable." 

If the tenant is in an apartment, Quartler said the landlord should move them to another unit. Not every landlord does this, or can do this, however.  

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