Study Finds Houston’s Apartment Safety Programs Are Flawed

February 9, 2018

A report by the University of Texas School of Law has found that Houston’s programs designed to ensure apartment safety are “flawed, fractured and improperly managed.”

The 16-month study released Feb. 6 is called “Out of Order: Houston’s Dangerous Apartment Epidemic.” The report looked at the city’s regulation of apartment complexes and enforcement procedures, the Houston Chronicle reported.

The study found that more than a quarter of the approximately 4,000 apartment complexes subject to inspection by Houston Public Works lack certificates of occupancy. Findings also showed that responsibility for apartment safety programs is divided among several city departments that don’t share data, and city policies involving 311 complaints mean employees close cases after only minimal follow-up.

“The city of Houston is operating a largely dysfunctional system for addressing tenant safety that appears to have little or no oversight by city leaders,” wrote Heather Way, director of the law school’s entrepreneurship and community development clinic. “The identification of dangerous apartment conditions in Houston remains primarily complaint-based and, even then, Houston fails to adequately inspect and otherwise follow up on complaints.”

The study came nearly a decade after a state law passed requiring Houston to “establish minimum habitability standards” for multifamily rental buildings and inspect those properties. Houston responded in 2009 with a program to regularly examine rentals of three or four more units and requiring multifamily building owners to register with the city.

But Way said the city’s programs for ensuring tenant safety remain largely reactive, noting it took public works staff more than five years to inspect the 4,000 properties under a system that isn’t risk-based.

Public Works spokeswoman Alanna Reed said the department is reviewing the findings.

“This is not the first critical report that the … Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic has released about apartment regulations in large Texas cities,” she said. “But Houston is unique in Texas because it has the third highest number of occupied apartments in the country. About half of all Houstonians are renters.”