Listening to tenants talk in City Council or at the facilitated dialogues I am astounded that significant health and safety issues go unreported. Situations where a property’s structure is compromised or where in-apartment conditions beg for an inspector from code enforcement. I also understand that some tenants fear retaliation and don’t want to go on record. But others might contact the city if they know to reach out, and how to make that complaint effective. Here I walk through the steps to file and online complaint and highlight how the form allows for filing a complaint anonymously.
What Does Code Enforcement Do?
The primary concern of code enforcement is public safety. It may be the go-to authority for issues ranging from rent increases to evictions, but that is only because Beverly Hills has had no housing division or rent stabilization office. Where other cities have several-million-dollar programs to field questions, educate tenants, adjudicate disputes and even provide legal services, Beverly Hills will spend less than $800,000 this fiscal year for our program. That’s just ninety bucks a unit — a 50% discount from what was requested for the program.
Code enforcement will continue to have primary responsibility for tenant issues for the foreseeable future, though it is entirely tangential to its main responsibilities: interpreting building standards, issuing permits and conducting inspections. But one has to dig really deep into the municipal code to find that. According to Title 9 (‘Building and Property Health and Safety Regulations’) Chapter 1 (‘Technical Codes’) Article 1 (‘Administrative Code For Building Standards’):
The building official shall receive applications, review construction documents and issue permits for the erection, construction, alteration, relocation, enlargement, replacement, repair, equipment, use and occupancy, location, maintenance, grading, removal and demolition of every building or structure, inspect the premises for which such permits have been issued and enforce compliance with the provisions of this code. (9-1-105: Duties And Powers Of Building Official)
In fact the only time mention of rental housing concerns ensuring unit habitability during construction or reconstruction. For example, a Means and Method plan or a relocation plan is required (Section 108, ‘Submittal Documents’). When it comes to other concerns of tenants the code is silent.
Beyond inspection of the interior and exterior of rental properties for health and safety issues, and ensuring that landlords follow the law on increases and deposits and the like, there’s not much that code enforcement can do for tenants. But code enforcement is all we have for now and every tenant should know how to file a complaint and how to do so anonymously.
How and When to File a Complaint
The ‘when’ is tougher than the ‘how.’ Is my rent increase lawful? Can my landlord take away my parking spot? When does my landlord need to replace my old carpet? For now these calls are fielded by code enforcement and the Director of Community Preservation, Nestor Otazu at (310) 285-1173.
Regarding old paint, worn carpet, aged appliances and other unit conditions, understand that the city has no standards for habitability. Code enforcement looks to the bare-bones state Civil Code for the law. And here it goes back to health and safety. Is the paint peeling? Is the carpet rippled or does it otherwise present a hazard? Old appliances are only a concern if they’re not functioning. Problems with locks (security) and vermin (sanitation) receive more love in the law.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the ‘how.’ You can phone in a complaint to code enforcement but I recommend you file it online so you can track the response and later follow-up. Persistence is the key!
Where to find the online file link on the city’s website? Good question! It appears in three places but none is intuitive. There is a ‘questions’ button on the right-side quick menu (which may or may not be visible; there is a ‘submit request’ link under the online services menu (below); and then there’s the code compliance link buried deep in menus for the Community Development Department (bottom).
On the code compliance webpage you have to look closely for the appropriate link:
Once any of these links takes you to the city’s online reporting system (called comcate), you can then submit your complaint using the ‘code enforcement’ tab. Here are the steps:
When submitting a compliant anonymously, I urge you to create a username and password to return to your complaint to later follow up. An anonymous complaint has a much higher chance of falling into the circular file. I am a frequent flier when it comes to code complaints and I have found that persistence pays off!