The Rent Control Board (RCB)  is recommending to City Council that renters should be allowed to challenge citations that code enforcement officers issue to their landlords.

The board voted unanimously last week to write a letter to the council recommending the local law be amended to allow a tenant to challenge a citation issued to their landlord pertaining to their unit. Vice chair Nicole Phillis began pursuing the policy in May, when longtime renter Eileen Carry was evicted after refusing to take down a patio trellis that both she and her landlord were cited for because it violated local code that restricts the height of fences and hedges.

Under current law, only the person cited has an opportunity to challenge the citation, said J. Stephen Lewis, the board’s general counsel. If a code enforcement officer cites a landlord for something pertaining to a tenant’s unit, only the landlord may contest the decision.

“That deprives the tenant as the responsible party of any opportunity to challenge the citation,” Phillis said.

While RCB staff said Carry was cited three times and therefore had three separate opportunities to challenge the citation, Phillis said other tenants don’t have that chance if code enforcement issues a citation to their landlord and not them.

“If one tenant loses their home because they can’t challenge a citation that becomes the basis of an (eviction), that’s too many for me,” she said.

Lewis told the board that Carry’s case is unique in the last 40 years and cautioned board members that modifying the law could create unintended consequences. But Phillis said she thinks the city doesn’t have enough information to conclude that an eviction under such circumstances has only happened once.

“As presently written, our ordinance creates a situation where you can have enforcement without opportunity,” she said.

Matthew Mullen, who rents out units in the building he lives in, told the board Thursday that he was concerned the policy change would complicate who is liable for damages that result from code violations.

If a tenant creates a dangerous condition, the landlord is cited to remove the condition and the tenant is allowed to file an appeal, he said, the tenant would be liable for any damages caused by the dangerous condition.

“If you’re going to approve something like this, you should require that the tenant have a million dollar liability policy,” Mullen said.

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