City Controller Ron Galperin said Wednesday a program that inspects residential rental units to verify compliance with health, safety and building codes is rife with billing errors and lagging response times, while calling for changes that he said would streamline its work and improve its efficiency.

The Systematic Code Enforcement Program was created in 1998 to provide routine inspections of residential buildings with two or more rental units. More than 96,000 properties and more than 740,000 rental units are subject to SCEP, which is operated by the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department.

“The health and safety of people who reside in L.A. needs to be of paramount importance,” Galperin said. “Our city has over time improved its code enforcement programs. But there is more we can and should be doing to respond quickly to complaints, to ensure the absolute accuracy of inspections and to modernize how we do it.”

Officials with HCID did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

An audit by Galperin’s office found that HCID’s ability to respond to complaints within its 72-hour goal fell from 89 percent in 2011 to 70 percent in 2017, and that certain properties are erroneously inspected while others are incorrectly billed due to erroneous information. Galperin recommended that HCID respond more quickly to complaints to address response times that have lagged, and to update HCID’s list of properties subject to SCEP to ensure inspections and billing are accurate.

Galperin also recommended that HCID modernize the refund process. In April 2017, more than 17,000 properties had credit balances of $2.9 million, but in the course of the audit, the number was reduced down to $1.9 million.

The city controller also recommended that HCID determine why notices of substandard conditions have fallen despite an increase in violations. Although the number of SCEP violations have increased since 2007, NSCs fell from 1,886 to 209 over the same time, the audit found.

“We’re extremely supportive of SCEP and of L.A. Controller Ron Galperin for pinpointing where we need to better focus our resources to ensure these are truly successful programs,” said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition for Economic Survival, a tenants’ rights organization.

“We know that the L.A. Housing and Community Investment Department is committed to renters and the city as a whole,” Gross said. “Programs like SCEP are crucial to ensuring renters of the city are able to reside in safe and habitable rental units. While it’s important that we constantly reassess the work and effectiveness of these programs, it’s just as important for the city to provide whatever resources are needed to ensure the safety of Angelenos.”

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