The slumlord situation

A version of this essay originally appeared on SN&R's new blog, Page Burner, at
Read “Why so many vacancies at Sacramento's downtown resident hotels?”(SN&R News, May 30), Dave Kempa's story on resident hotels in Sacramento, at

The ink wasn’t even dry on reporter Dave Kempa’s story on slummy residential motels last week, but it was already affecting policy. His inquiries into why downtown’s “single-room occupancy” hotels were underoccupied in a city with marked low-income housing needs set the tone during a recent city council meeting.

Through his digging, Kempa found that many of these hotels ran high vacancies because of deplorable living conditions that even poor people can’t abide.

Sacto’s rental-inspection program was supposed to course-correct some of these issues. In 2008, at the program’s inception, the city noted code and safety violations in 69 percent of the 2,932 parcels it inspected. Read that again: 69 percent.

Last year, the city inspected a bunch more parcels—4,876 to be exact—and tallied violations in 30 percent of them. When you do the math, it amounts to roughly the same number of violations at 56 fewer parcels.

Anyway, city officials and rental-housing advocates say the program is working. But it’s not yet helping everyone.

As Kempa’s story relates, impoverished residents of cheap residential motels like the Marshall, Capitol Park and Congress often live in dire conditions. Exposed conductors, defective flooring, unventilated heat—the bugs, cockroaches and rodents that some folks share their rooms with have it better.

Kempa was able to question Councilman Steve Hansen at length about these issues in a phone interview. It’s in Hansen’s district that many of these motels are located. And while he declined to go on the record with SN&R, Hansen did have some questions of his own during the May 28 council meeting.

In response to one of his queries, the Community Development Department’s Ron O’Connor said the central-city residential motels are indeed inspected to the same degree that other rental structures are. “We do inspect them every year,” O’Connor said.

“To same standard that you would inspect other rental housing?” Hansen followed up.

O’Connor cleared his throat and paused. “Well, yes, we should,” he started. “And sometimes the inspectors get in there and, you know, feel sorry for a tenant here, a tenant there, but we’re working on that right now. But I will get back to you on that.”

In the meantime, watch out for those bedbugs.