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Should Atlanta do a Better Job Enforcing Housing Code Violations at Substandard Rental Properties?

Why does Gwinnett County seem to care more about the living conditions of "working poor" families occupying substandard rental properties than the City of Atlanta? Last year, the Atlanta Journal Constitution, or AJC, published a 3 part series of Articles entitled the "Dangerous Dwelling Series". The series detailed how most affordable housing occupied by "working poor" families throughout metropolitan Atlanta is "nearly uninhabitable."  Gwinnett County has taken action in response to the AJC Articles, Atlanta has not. 

Gwinnett County Commissioners recently voted to adopt "The International Property Maintenance Code" of 2021 or "IPMC". The IPMC authorizes code enforcement officers to issue citations to landlords for code violations upon substandard rental properties. In part, the IPMC requires landlords to maintain properties to minimum standards including to: i) ensure walls, floors, ceilings, windows and doors serve their intended purpose, ii) maintain all heating and AC units, stoves, refrigerators and other equipment in working condition, and iii) provide ongoing pest control. Atlanta has yet to formally adopt the IPMC, and continues to investigate code violations in rental properties using the old municipal housing code of 1987. 

The differences between Atlanta and Gwinnett County do not stop with outdated housing standards! Code violations in Gwinnett County are investigated by the code enforcement division, under jurisdiction of the Planning and Development Department, using a dedicated staff, properly trained in housing codes.  Code violations in Atlanta are investigated by police officers, assigned to the Community  Services Division, under the jurisdiction of the Atlanta Police Department, who are currently shorthanded and trained in crimes, not maintaining rental properties. Code violations in Gwinnett County are heard by the "Recorders Court" where violations are treated seriously, and violators are subject to fines of $1,000 or 60 days in jail per each violation.  Code violations in Atlanta are heard by the "Municipal Court", and although the civil and criminal penalties are more severe, are treated less seriously and seldom assessed.

The yearlong investigation conducted by the AJC identified more than 250 chronically dangerous apartment complexes, occupied primarily by the "working poor", 90+ of which are located within the City of Atlanta.  The investigation uncovered that "lax security, deferred maintenance, government inertia, and weak tenant-protection laws" combined to trap "working poor families" in substandard apartment complexes where they are menaced by crime, rats, mold and other threats. 

The AJC investigation disclosed that "Georgia has no minimum standards requiring owners to maintain their rental properties, much less to keep them decent, safe or habitable. Instead, a confusing patchwork of local ordinances is all that stands between tenants and apartment owners. Enforcement is left to code enforcement officers, prosecutors, municipal and magistrate judges and others who often lack the legal authority, resources or time to hold unscrupulous owners accountable." Worse yet, the AJC concluded "tens of thousands live amid conditions that place their health and safety at risk because apartment owners, often private equity firms and investment groups, routinely dodge attempts by local governments and courts to hold them accountable."  

There is much talk amongst Atlanta City leaders about the lack of affordable housing available to the "working poor".  Perhaps Atlanta should follow the lead of Gwinnett County by ensuring the affordable housing currently available is properly maintained and housing code violations are enforced.

“Gwinnett County commissioners are moving to adopt international property maintenance rules that will enable the county’s code enforcement officers to issue citations for interior code violations at rental properties. The county began the process of adopting the International Property Maintenance Code this past week. Adoption of the code would enable the county’s code enforcement officers to work with rental property tenants to ensure the interiors of their residences remain up to code. Code enforcement officers currently have no authority over interior issues at rental properties. The rules would only apply to rental properties. “Everyone deserves a safe and comfortable place to live,” County Commission Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said. “This resolution not only ensures our residents feel valued, it holds landlords accountable for how their properties are maintained.”


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