The staggering number of code violations cited at Yale Park Apartments by Omaha officials in 2018 provided a wake-up call for our city. Inspectors evacuated more than 500 tenants and found nearly 2,000 violations at the complex, including gas leaks, faulty wiring, leaky roofs and unsanitary conditions involving cockroaches and bedbugs.
The need for increased oversight of rental properties was clear. City leaders debated how best to craft regulations that would provide appropriate inspections and information-gathering without placing excessive burdens on responsible landlords.
Omaha officials needed to think through how many more housing inspectors to hire, for example, and what the city’s practical capacity is to expand property inspections, given that Omaha has an estimated 80,000 rental properties. It was clear, too, that the city needed to step up its efforts to inform tenants of their rights and provide a process in which renters have confidence to place complaints with the city as needed.
Responsible landlords understandably say they shouldn’t be tarred by the failures of rental property owners who neglect their duties. At the same time, the city has an obligation to take all practical steps to ensure that no Omaha renters are subject to unsafe or substandard conditions.
The city began carrying out its policy this month. The ordinance provides a range of sensible provisions, with additional, incremental steps in future years.
To give the city a full inventory, landlords need to register their rental properties by March 31. Inspections will still be complaint-driven during 2020-21. Landlords have 14 days under the ordinance to correct a code violation or request an extension from the city.
In 2022, the city will begin inspections of rental properties once every 10 years. In large apartment complexes, the city will inspect a sample of apartments.
The ordinance aims to help tenants be better informed about the property owner and how to deal with problem situations. Landlords must post a notice of who owns the property and how to reach a person responsible for it. If a landlord fails to address a problem, the city recommends that renters contact a tenant advocacy group or city housing enforcement about the issue.
Legal Aid of Nebraska has put together an online handbook that explains the legal rights of landlords and tenants.
The city has filled 10 of 11 funded positions for housing inspectors, and will hire additional inspectors as needed for mandatory inspections.
As the city proceeds with the new ordinance, landlords need to be wide awake to their obligations. Tenants can help by seeking solutions when problems arise, first through the landlord and, failing that, working with local nonprofits for assistance.
Through sensible policies, Omaha can move forward to promote safe and sanitary living conditions for its residents.