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Report Calls for Action on 'Repeat Offender' Properties

Miguel Gutierrez Jr./KUT News
A report argues the city isn't doing enough to hold owners of properties frequently cited for code violations to task.

There are thousands of rental properties in Austin – after all, most people who live in Austin rent – and of those thousands, there are more than two dozen that have racked up 300 code violations from the City of Austin. A new study provides suggestions on how to handle the so-called “repeat offenders.”

The study’s author argues that the city could be focusing more on these violations, rather than dedicating more Code Compliance resources towards the policing of short-term rentals.

In 2012, the collapse of some balconies at the Wood Ridge Apartments in East Austin led to some injuries, which also drew the attention of the City of Austin. Soon after, the city created a program to monitor properties like Wood Ridge that repeatedly violated code.

Heather Way of the Entrepreneurship and Community Development Clinic at UT’s School of Law says that since the program’s launch, there’s been progress, but it’s been slow-going. The group just came out with a report on the city’s Repeat Offender Program, and Way says the properties are mostly in economically disadvantaged parts of town.

“I think as a city we actually have some double standards when it comes to rental properties,” she says. “We have a quite robust program around STRs [short-term rental properties.] The city right now is engaged in a concerted effort to police those properties, and those are properties that are largely located in middle- and upper-income neighborhoods.”

By contrast, repeat offender properties receive very little attention, according to the data pulled by Way. She says it takes an average of 159 days for a repeat offender property to address a code violation, and some are never addressed.

The report also cites six additional properties that have yet to be deemed repeat offenders, a development that was "puzzling," according to the report. This is partially because the program is dependent on tenant complaints, the report suggests, and that a specific complaint could yield an inspection of a specific violation, but that there were no "comprehensive" inspections of properties. 

Way thinks the city is not doing enough to get property owners to fix dangerous conditions. For its part, the city's Code Enforcement Department says the program is very new, and it's doing its best to inspect each of these properties at least once a year.

Check out the interactive map below to see repeat offender properties, according to the City of Austin’s Data Portal.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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