As Cobb requires apartment inspections, some fear tenants will carry the burden

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

After repeated complaints about poor living conditions in apartments across the county, Cobb commissioners approved the new multifamily housing inspection program last week in an effort to hold landlords more accountable.

Commissioner Monique Sheffield sponsored the new requirements after seeing the deplorable living conditions some tenants in the county were facing: “insect and rodent infestation, raw sewage backed up in kitchen sinks, mold and mildew throughout the units,” she said.

The county will now require apartment complexes of four or more units to hire a certified inspector to evaluate 25% of the units each year with business license renewals, starting with the 2024 renewal cycle. After four years, every unit will be required to be inspected. External inspections of the entire property will be required yearly.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s year-long investigation “Dangerous Dwellings” brought attention to the unsafe living conditions at apartment complexes across metro Atlanta and the many problems tenants face. Since then, Sandy Springs, Fulton County and Cobb County have made efforts to address housing conditions through inspections.

The Cobb inspections program brought criticism from renters, some of whom attended last week’s board meeting to share their stories of struggling to pay higher rent prices and facing threats of eviction.

Some said they feared that the financial burden for repairing the units could be passed onto renters, who are already facing higher rent prices due to the housing shortage. Others said many units would need to be vacated in order to be repaired because of how poor the conditions are.

“These multifamily complexes are filled with people that are literally living less than even paycheck to paycheck,“ said Courtney Omega Doss. “These are the tools to gentrification and to destroying communities.”

Monica DeLancy, a tenants’ rights activist and founder of the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association for several apartment complexes in south Cobb, spoke about the lack of affordable options for renters.

“When are we going to start building new apartment complexes that’s for essential workers, that’s for people with disabilities, that’s for people using Section 8 vouchers, so they don’t find themselves going to old apartment complexes?” DeLancy said to the board.

Some tenants choose not to file complaints with the county out of fear of retaliation from landlords. The county proposed the new requirements to help tenants who reached out after “landlords have not been responsive to their complaints and concerns about their unlivable conditions,” said Community Development Director Jessica Guinn.

While many opposed the inspections program, they also asked the county to do more to help renters, many of whom faced higher rates of eviction during the pandemic across metro Atlanta.

“Help us to hold these landlords and property owners accountable for these unlivable conditions, the same way they hold us accountable for these outrageous rent prices,” said Georgia Tabb, also representing the We Thrive in Riverside Renters Association.

Cobb Commission Chairwoman Lisa Cupid said the board is in a tough position because the program that is designed to help tenants could bring adverse consequences to them.

“The lowest rental value apartments will probably be the apartments in greatest disrepair,” she said. “So the ones that are the most affordable are probably the ones that need the most work.”

Sheffield, whose district makes up most of south Cobb where some of the worst apartments are located, said the county has to do something to hold landlords accountable and address the public health issue.

“We can’t promise or say that people will not be displaced, and we hope that that’s not the case,” Sheffield said. “If there is no measure of accountability, at some point that will happen, because the conditions will continue to get worse and worse.”

The board approved the inspection requirements unanimously. Cupid said she acknowledges that some cost of repairing units could be passed onto tenants, but that the county has to address habitability.

“I can’t see how we cannot be responsive to the issues that have been shared, not only meeting after meeting, but year after year,” she said.