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High Quality Housing

The quality of housing can dramatically affect residents. High-quality building and maintenance standards help to ensure that families have healthy and safe places to live. Poor-quality housing, on the other hand, can lead to accidents and other negative effects. Building and maintenance codes can help ensure that a city’s housing stock is kept in good condition, providing a safe environment for homeowners and renters alike.


Cities should adopt strong building, fire, and property-maintenance codes that provide proper standards and safeguards for the construction of homes and other buildings. Cities should review “best practices” outlines of such codes by relevant professional organizations. Cities should also ensure the robust enforcement of these codes through proactive building-code inspection process. The inspection process should target specific areas or types of building (or both) to ensure that tenants know if their home is up to code. Making sure that rental properties are up to code is particularly important.


Changes in the U.S. housing market can have implications unforeseen by most municipal codes. As a result, cities must adapt and ensure that their building codes match the reality in their neighborhoods. By addressing national trends, cities can take action on time to ensure tenants have safe living situations.


Cities and landlords often take adversarial roles in building-code violations. Educational programs can help to improve that relationship and stop problems before they begin, saving money in inspection and administrative costs. In addition, cities should require all owners of rental property to register and provide one or more contacts for emergencies or health and safety issues.

Targeted Rental Licensing Programs: A Strategic Overview, Jessica A. Bacher, American Bar Association, April 7th, 2016. Read more.

Building Energy Codes: Policy Overview and Good Practices, Sadie Cox, Clean Energy Solutions Center, February 1st, 2016. Read more.

Raising the Bar: A short guide to landlord incentives and rental property regulation, Alan Mallach, Center for Community Progress, December 1st, 2015. Read more.

Best Practices: Building Department Accreditation Program, The International Accreditation Service and the International Code Council , September 1st, 2015. Read more.

A Guide to Proactive Rental Inspection Programs, Amy Ackerman, ChangeLab Solutions, January 1st, 2014. Read more.

Improving the Quality of Housing, Community Tool Box. Read more.

Overview of the IBC, International Code Council. Read more.

Seattle, WA, created a Rental Registration and Inspection Ordinance (RRIO) that helps ensure that rental housing is safe and meets basic housing maintenance requirements. RRIO aims to educate property owners, managers, and renters about City housing codes and their responsibilities. It also requires owners to verify their properties meet these standards when registering with the City. The ordinance requires that all registered rental properties be inspected at least once every 10 years.


In Grand Rapids, MI, the housing-market downturn led many homeowners to convert their single-family homes into rental properties. While a Grand Rapids ordinance previously required that multiunit properties be inspected and certified, that law has now been extended to single-family homes used as rental property.


Milwaukee, WI, holds regular free training sessions for landlords to discuss housing maintenance and other issues. Many cities, such as Portland, OR, also provide free training manuals to landlords to ensure that they are familiar with the city’s maintenance code and other relevant laws. In Cleveland, OH, for example, the Housing Court provides housing specialists that run educational clinics and offer direct technical assistance to landlords.


Charlotte, NC, and Madison, WI, are examples of cities with registration systems, where owners of rental property are required to provide one or more emergency contacts. Both cities experienced increasing problems with poorly maintained properties, absentee landlords, and increases in crime related to particular properties. The registration systems ensure that the cities have the contact information for several individuals with the authority to respond to emergencies or health and safety issues.


Baltimore, MD, in addition to rental property registration, requires an annual license for operators of multifamily properties. The license is only granted if the property is up to code and compliant with lead-paint rules, and it can be revoked if the property owner knowingly allows illegal activity on the premises or fails to address code violations.


Boston, MA worked with local universities’ data sets to identify hundreds of potentially overcrowded student residences as part of the City’s larger effort to track all rental properties and their code enforcement status in a database.


Mariah Young-Jones
Read more about healthy housing standards in your city in our report Cities at Work: Progressive Local Policies to Rebuild the Middle Class.