That sheet of plywood over a window could be an invitation to Mesa code inspectors to come inside if city voters pass a measure to battle slum rental properties.
Proposition 400, which will be on the Nov. 4 Mesa ballot, gives city inspectors authority to enter rental properties they believe are falling apart, unsanitary or unsafe in any other way with the permission of the tenant, owner or court.
The measure is on the ballot because any change to the city’s housing code has to go before voters, said Mike Renshaw, code compliance director.
If it passes, then the city will have to write an ordinance to create an inspection program, he said.
The city wants to create the inspection program because rental properties are taking up too many city resources in the form of police calls and code compliance complaints, city records show.
Right now, Mesa’s code compliance officers can address only property maintenance issues on the exterior, Renshaw said.
He said in March when the City Council discussed putting the measure on the ballot, some council members wanted to know why an inspector would need to enter the home if there were obvious maintenance code violations on the exterior.
“It’s Code Compliance’s experience, it’s Building Safety’s experience, (police department’s) experience that often when there is smoke, there is fire,” Renshaw said. “Exterior violations often are the outward kind of symptoms of something more serious on the inside.”
State law requires rental property owners to register their property with the county assessor for tax collecting purposes.
There are 15,829 registered rental properties in Mesa, according to the Maricopa County Assessor’s Office.
And a 2006 U.S. Census Bureau survey found there were about 50,175 multifamily household units, which is defined as a structure with two or more units, according to city records.
Matt Tolman, owner of JMT Management in Mesa, manages about 100 properties.
Tolman said he is not opposed to the ballot measure, but he is concerned because voters will be giving the city authority to enter property before there is even an ordinance written.
“We’re allowing a Pandora’s box to open here,” Tolman said. “We all know what happens with government when they get an opportunity. They kind of expand. They kind of grow.”
Renshaw said an inspector going inside a property would just look around for health and safety violations.
They would not conduct the type of searches like police do when they are armed with a court-approved search warrant, such as going through drawers and personal papers, Renshaw said.
Inspectors would act only on a complaint and they would need to get the permission of the tenant or owner before going inside, Renshaw said.