Thousands of tenants in Philadelphia live in rental properties with serious and unaddressed housing code violations, putting their health, safety, and housing stability at risk. Renters United Philadelphia / Inquilinxs en la Lucha (RUP) organizes and educate renters to fight for their rights to quality housing in the streets, in the courts, and in City Hall. At a Philadelphia City Council budget hearing, a RUP member and the Law Center’s tenant organizer testified about the urgent need for the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections to proactively address housing quality, and to be given the resources it needs to do so.
Testimony of Todd Abney, Renters United Philadelphia Organizing Committee Member
May 24, 2022 — Good afternoon, my name is Todd Abney and for the last five years I’ve lived at 4647 Adams Ave in the Northwood Neighborhood. I work for Philadelphia Gas Works. My landlord is MCM Management Solutions, which owns over 350 apartments in Philadelphia. Due to the issues that I have, I became a member of Renters United Philadelphia two years ago. I am here today in hope that we can get City Council to see the problems with landlords and License and Inspections. Basically, they need more inspectors to pro-actively inspect on week nights and weekends but without displacing tenants.
These are the problems that I’m facing as a tenant. I have sinking floors in my kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom. In the winter, my windows leak so bad that my gas bill doubles every month. Also in my bedroom the ceilings are slowly sinking in on me. MCM says nothing can be done about these problems. What really scares me is that we had a roof fall in on another apartment about a month ago. I’m afraid I’ll be in bed and the ceiling will fall in on me or I could go right through the floor into the basement. Living alone, who knows how long I could be down there without getting any help.
When MCM didn’t act, I called License and Inspection. But L and I’s hours and my hours don’t line up. The inspector showed up, but I wasn’t home. I knew they were coming and I just didn’t know when until they were already at my front door and I was at work.
This is why we need night and weekend inspection appointments. Workers like me can not take off for mid-day inspections. We also just need more inspectors inspecting apartments pro-actively instead of reactively. But instead of punishing tenants by displacing them for uninhabitable homes, the city must keep tenants housed.
“I have been in houses that are ready to collapse. It brings tears to my eyes because people are paying rent and landlords are doing absolutely nothing.”
According to a research report of the Pew Charitable Trust, L and I had fewer than 45 employees trained to inspect apartments in 2021. Their budget was $38 million yet they brought in $65.5 million through fees. The difference of $17 million would be enough to proactively inspect all Philadelphia apartments once a year. $3.4 million would be enough to proactively inspect every 5 years.
As a PGW employee, I get to see that it’s not only me that has problems. I have been in houses that are ready to collapse. It brings tears to my eyes because people are paying rent and landlords are doing absolutely nothing. It’s time for the city to step in to increase inspectors for proactive inspections but without displacing renters. Thank you.
Testimony of Ariel Morales, Renters United Philadelphia Tenant Organizer.
May 24, 2022 — Good afternoon, my name is Ariel Morales and I am a tenant organizer for Renters United Philadelphia, a power-building organization based within the Public Interest Law Center. We educate and organize working class renters to collectively assert their rights to healthy and safe housing. We organize primarily in the Frankford and Germantown neighborhoods. I am here today to highlight how our current complaint-based inspection system puts tenants’ lives at risk in their homes while also posing a risk of homelessness. Philadelphia needs a proactive approach to inspection that does not further victimize renters by leading to their displacement.
We want to thank L&I for the Department’s efforts in inspecting habitability issues that we have reported in MCM Management Solution buildings. MCM is a New Jersey-based landlord that owns 30 plus buildings and 350 plus units in Philadelphia. Last year, Renters United Philadelphia members were in touch with an L&I inspector who investigated some of the issues members reported. This year, another inspector revisited one of those buildings after our members reported urgent fire code violations. Other members, however, reported issues via 311 and the app, but did not receive a response from L&I, or could not take off work to accommodate a mid-day inspection. Inspections that occur only during working hours present a real challenge for working class renters.
RUP members have had to endure falling ceilings, sinking floors, sewage bubbling up in their sinks, broken elevators, insecure front doors, persistent mice and roach infestations, faulty fire alarms, missing fire extinguishers, and even a roach crawling across the face of one member’s baby. Each of these issues not only represents a physical threat to renters’ health, but also takes an emotional toll. After the tragedies we have seen in Fairmount and Kensington, renters go to sleep each night worried whether a fire or other tragedy will unfold.
As City Council continues the budget review process, we ask Council to prioritize the health and safety of Philadelphia’s working class renters and make the necessary investments in L&I to work toward regular affirmative inspections.
Philadelphia has no program for regularly inspecting rental properties. According to a research report from the Pew Charitable Trust, reactive inspections in response to formal complaints to L&I result in only about 7% of the City’s rental units being inspected each year. Pew notes that an investment of $3.4 million dollars per year could fund proactive inspections on a five-year cycle. We need regular affirmative inspections to ensure that repairs are consistently made. It is unacceptable when tenants living in properties in serious disrepair are displaced due to landlords’ failure to maintain their properties.
Members of Renters United Philadelphia are parents, grandparents, frontline staff and essential workers, who work hard to earn a living and take care of our communities. We believe that paying rent should enable them to have safe and healthy homes, rather than only lining the pockets of large corporate landlords. As City Council continues the budget review process, we ask Council to prioritize the health and safety of Philadelphia’s working class renters and make the necessary investments in L&I to work toward regular affirmative inspections. We also look forward to working with L&I in support of the Department’s mission to build and sustain a safer Philadelphia.