Austin’s rental property program fails to achieve minimum health and safety standards, audit finds

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An apartment building in Austin. (KXAN Photo).

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin’s Repeat Offender Program has not successfully ensured Austin renters are living in healthy and safe conditions, according to a September audit.

The Austin Code Department has failed to escalate enforcement to ensure property owners are fixing code violations, the Office of the City Auditor says.

Other findings include the fact the process for registering property owners in the program is inefficient and large properties don’t pay proportionate fees to administer the program.

Part of the reason for difficulty in enforcing the program is due to Austin’s competetive housing market.

“Properties that deteriorate and develop Code violations are often less expensive to rent,” the audit states. “Many tenants of repeat offender properties are low-income and vulnerable to displacement.”

The City created the program in 2013 in response structural failures that endangered residents and their families, according to the audit. It forces property owners registered with the program to agree to periodic inspections and fix violations in an allotted time.

Recommendations from the Office include creating a voluntary landlord incentive program, increasing enforcement and creating a new fee schedule to reflect different workloads and costs.

“It appears Code has not escalated enforcement at other repeat offender properties… but the Department is moving to stricter enforcement now,” the audit states. “Incentivizing property owner action may also lead to improved and safer rental housing in Austin. An incentive program could be a way to get landlords to voluntarily offer tenant protections, making renters third-party beneficiaries of good landlord agreements between the City and property owners.”

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