In the wake of the closure of the Smith Apartments, where tenants lived without heat because the owners refused to repair a boiler, Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis said the city must strengthen its housing laws.
The city placed the building's last tenants in housing provided by the Housing Authority this week after the apartments were closed because the owners failed to comply with an order to repair the building's heat facilities."I think we really need to strongly look at some new ordinances . . . to allow the city to get tougher with the situations that we've now found have become more than just an isolated case," DePaulis told reporters Thursday.
The apartments, at 230 S. Third East, are owned by First National Leasing, which also owns three other low-income apartment complexes in the city, some of which also have been cited for building-code violations.
"The city was not able to move in and help protect the tenants with any kind of enforcement that would allow the landlords to keep those apartments heated and habitable in a clean and safe way," DePaulis said.
"I think we need to have something that is equitable, reasonable and that's acceptable but will give us more teeth in enforcing our current ordinance," DePaulis said.
Sacramento, Calif., and Dallas have ordinances that to some extent force landlords to maintain their properties in livable condition. Those ordinances could serve as a model for the city, said Pete Suazo, mayoral executive assistant.
Last year, Utah Legal Services presented a proposed landlord-tenant ordinance that the mayor rejected, saying it was a matter to be addressed by the state so as not to create an isolated pocket of housing legislation.
Landord-tenant legislation is ineffective if it only addresses problems in the city and not the county, DePaulis said Thursday. But a city ordinance would help "zero in" on specific problems in Salt Lake City.
The proposed ordinance calls for enabling tenants to withhold rent if repairs are not attended to. DePaulis called such a provision "a sensitive issue" and suggested instead rent money be held in escrow in some events.
"People have to pay their rents . . . but at the same time by escrowing those rents and not allowing them to be paid in full until the issue is taken care of, that might be a better way to go," he said.