The Dallas City Council adopted tougher housing codes Wednesday in an effort to crack down on slumlords.
Dallas tenants have complained for years about foul conditions and landlords who refuse to fix them but still insist that rent be paid on time.
Councilman Adam McGough who led months of negotiations to re-write the Dallas housing laws worked in the past as an assistant Dallas city attorney, prosecuting code violators. He said the old rules left too many loopholes.
"We want to improve the quality of life for all of our citizens, and some of that deals with folks that are living in blighted conditions," McGough said. "And so this gives hopefully our code officers a stronger tool and more clarity for enforcement."
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One last-minute fight came over a provision to require air-conditioning that cools to at least 85 degrees on the hottest days.
Councilman Mark Clayton complained a tougher 82 degrees should have been adopted.
"We're missing it on this one," said Clayton. "Do what you think is best, but I think, this is a terrible, terrible mistake."
McGough made the motion approved by a 12-to-1 vote to switch the rule to 85 from 82 degrees.
"This is the strongest AC regulation in the state, and hopefully that will improve the conditions people are living in. And if it doesn't, we have the right come back and address this," McGough said.
Tenants who fought for the changes cheered after the City Council vote.
"Now, I feel proud that it happened," said tenant Patricia Vega. "It's not but perfect, but we have something to work with."
Vega said air-conditioning in her apartment is unpredictable.
"In Dallas, every time the weather changes, you never know. Sometimes high, sometimes low," she said.
Vega said mold, bad plumbing and decrepit kitchens are common in the complex where she lives with her four children. Three of the four have asthma and Vega said she has moved several times in the seven years she's lived in Dallas.
"Every time we move we think it's much better. It's not. So we still find problem, carpet bugs, rats, mice," she said.
The city's largest organization of responsible landlords supported the new rules.
Kathy Carlton, with the Apartment Association of Greater Dallas, said bad landlords hurt everyone.
"When we have poorly operated properties and slum landlords, they bring down the reputation of the entire industry," Carlton said.
The new rules also apply to single-family rental homes and rental condominiums. They will now receive city inspection and owners must register so the city can find them for enforcement.
"We should be sending arrest warrants for some of these slumlords," said Councilwoman Carolyn King Arnold. "They should have been in jail, a long time ago."
The new city budget included more code inspectors to enforce the new rules.