The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a new property maintenance code that allows for interior inspections of rental properties and penalties to landlords who fail to make basic repairs.
Over the years, commissioners said they have received many complaints from residents whose landlords were failing to maintain minimal safety and sanitation, but the county could not do anything because the property maintenance code only addressed building exteriors.
The changes were also a response to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s “Dangerous Dwellings” investigative series, which lists 14 apartment complexes in Gwinnett as unsafe due to serious crimes, lax maintenance or other hazards.
The Gwinnett commission in February proposed to the state Department of Community Affairs that it could adopt portions of the International Property Maintenance Code that pertain to interior structures. The DCA reviewed the proposed local amendments and had no comments, County Attorney Mike Ludwiczak told commissioners.
The commission voted unanimously to adopt the changes.
“I wholeheartedly support this,” Chairwoman Nicole Love Hendrickson said after the vote. “It allows us greater leverage to ensure that the tenants who are living in these apartments have decent, stable and quality housing.”
Commissioner Kirkland Carden, whose densely developed District 1 includes many of the properties on the AJC’s “Dangerous Dwellings” list, said Tuesday’s vote was a long time coming.
“I’m really excited and proud that we were able to pass such an important piece of legislation that is going to impact the lives of Gwinnettians,” he said.
Carden added that the ordinance amendments do not mark the end of the county’s housing initiatives. He said an affordability crisis, housing discrimination and blight still have to be addressed.
The code changes will take effect July 31. County staff will begin now begin educating property owners about the new ordinance, Ludwiczak said.
The county adopted portions of the international code that contain minimum standards for structural maintenance, lighting, ventilation, occupancy, plumbing, heating, electricity and fire safety.
Among the many requirements: structural components must be able to support their load; every habitable space must have at least one window facing outdoors; and each apartment must contain its own working bathtub or shower, lavatory, water closet and kitchen sink.
Penalties for violating the ordinance include a fine of $250 per day up to $1,000, or a jail sentence of 60 days or less.
Code enforcement officers must present credentials and request access to properties for inspections, but if denied, they “have recourse to every remedy provided by law” to gain entry, according to the ordinance.
Chris Hayward, deputy director of planning and development, said code enforcement officers primarily will be the ones who inspect and investigate tenant complaints. He said county staffers are excited about the new ordinance.
“I think this is really reinforcing the board’s priority to maintain a safe, livable and healthy community,” Hayward said.