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Anaheim to crack down on substandard residential motels

About one-third of Anaheim's approximately 95 motels are used as long-term lodging. Under a new ordinance, residential motels will have to register with the city and could be subject to inspections.
About one-third of Anaheim's approximately 95 motels are used as long-term lodging. Under a new ordinance, residential motels will have to register with the city and could be subject to inspections.
Photo by Allen/roadsidepictures via Flickr Creative Commons

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Motels in Anaheim that serve as long-term homes for low-income people will soon be subject to periodic inspections to make sure they’re up to code. The city council this week voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance that is an extension of a 2-year-old program that targets the city’s rental units for similar inspections.

About one-third of Anaheim’s estimated 95 motels are expected to be included in the program. Owners of residential motels will be required to register with the city and fill out a questionnaire about management practices, including questions about the motel’s pest control practices and its system for taking and responding to tenant complaints. 

Problematic motels will be inspected and owners will be given deadlines for fixing problems or else face fines. 

Still, Anaheim Planning Director David Belmer stressed that the city wants to work with motel owners to ensure safe, sanitary housing. 

"We always give the owner an opportunity to perform,” he said. "“Our expectations are reasonable and simple. All we’re asking is for you to provide safe and sanitary conditions here.”

Belmer said the city’s highest concentration of residential motels is on Beach Boulevard, once a major city thoroughfare that offered lodging for out-of-town visitors. Now, most visitors stay in the city’s resort district, closer to the I-5. 

Many motel owners in the area have found a market among down-and-out individuals and families who need a place to stay for a few nights — or even weeks or months.

"They definitely fulfill a housing need because people are living there,” Belmer said. "And I think it’s largely people who cannot qualify for traditional housing for various reasons.” 

One of those reasons is cost. Anaheim, like most Orange County cities, has a dearth of affordable housing. 
 
More than 1,000 Orange County school children lived in hotels or motels during the 2014-2015 school year, according to the latest data from the Orange County Department of Education. Jeanne Awrey, the department’s homeless education manager, said the percentage of homeless students has gone up since schools started keeping track in 2003, but said it was hard to gauge how much of the increase is due to better accounting. 

The county’s biannual Point in Time homeless count does not include people living in motels. 

Paul Leon, executive director of the Illumination Foundation, said Anaheim likely has the largest concentration of residential motels in the county. 

He said renting a motel room isn’t necessarily cheaper than renting an apartment, but families often don’t have the funds to pay a deposit or can’t keep up with monthly rent. Many rotate between sleeping in their cars, in parks or at the beach, and in motels. 

Leon said he welcomed the news of Anaheim’s residential motel inspection program. 

"Having transparency in those apartments is a great idea,” he said, adding that many rooms housing transient families have bed bugs, lice or rats. He recalled visiting one room where the bathtub was covered in black mold. 

“They’re horrendous,” he said. "Some of them aren’t any better than the street.” 

Anaheim plans to have its new inspection program up and running by June. It’s expected to cost about $150,000 annually.