Scott Griggs Thinks The City's Being "A Little Misleading" About Its Power to Regulate Boarding Homes

Categories: City Hall

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Immediately after Mayor Mike's extremely non-surprising show of support for the Trinity River toll road yesterday, the city council members retreated into executive session to continue talking about how to regulate the city's boarding homes .

After more than an hour off-camera, they came back and agreed to let staff move forward on drafting a city ordinance based on HB 216, the state law that lets cities require minimum quality-of-life standards from boarding home operators. But during the conversation, councilman Scott Griggs showed some frustration with the city attorneys and staff, who seem to be finding a lot of reasons why regulating boarding homes is going to be really, really hard and are we sure we want to do this, really?

At the moment, quality of life in boarding homes is no one's problem: The state regulates nursing homes and other managed-care facilities, and the city ensures code and fire compliance for the boarding homes that they know about. But no one's really making sure that the homes aren't exploiting their residents financially or putting them in substandard conditions, both issues that have been reported at some homes. The city currently has one code compliance inspector assigned to check code issues in boarding homes, which city council member Ann Margolin called "obviously grossly inadequate."

But the city's dragging its heels a little on making boarding homes its problem. Jimmy Martin, who runs code compliance for the city, said that the city will need to appoint an eyebrow-raising 18 staff members to supervise boarding homes, at a cost of more than a million dollars a year (for context, when the state was considering overseeing boarding homes, they estimated it would cost around $50 million a year to regulate all the homes in Texas).

And he and assistant city attorney Chris Bowers pointed out there are still "limitations" to the ordinance: They can't ensure "continuous compliance" from boarding home operators, and in some cases, they may be required to get a search warrant to enter and inspect the premises. (As some astute commenters have pointed out, you also can't ensure continuous compliance with the health code in a restaurant, unless you have an inspector sleeping in the walk-in freezer and doing spot-checks every five minutes.)

On the search warrant issue, Griggs pointed out that the state law says explicitly that a county or municipality "may conduct an inspection, survey or an investigation that it considers necessary," and can enter the premises of a boarding home facility to do so.

"How from that language do you take that you can't enter?" he inquired. "The state says you can enter at reasonable times."

"The bottom line is that is the operator says no, shuts the door, and locks it, they need to get a search warrant," Bowers replied.

But Griggs replied that an operator who refuses to let inspectors in would most certainly be probable cause for a search warrant. "If you get the door slammed and locked on you, that certainly means something's going on," he said. "You don't just stand there and not do anything. There will always be unreasonable owners that will bar the door and lock it because they have something to hide, but I don't think that should be an excuse."

"There may be some institutional resistance to moving forward on this," Griggs added. "But HB 216 explicitly states the owners have to give us permission to enter their facilities at reasonable times. ... I think this is a little misleading, to say the least." He said the city needed "take a leadership role" on the boarding home issue. "The question for this council, the question for my colleagues is, are we going to be leaders in this? Are we going to take a step forward and be leaders, or are we going to stand on the sidelines?"

Mayor Rawlings agreed. Sort of. "This is obviously a complicated issue," he said. "There are legal, neighborhood-planning and enforcement issues. But ultimately it's about human beings, and we've got think through this and make sure they're put front and center." He's talked with groups of senior citizens recently, he said, who "had a lot of passion on this issue."

"I concur that we've got to keep pushing this along," Rawlings said, "But do it in a prudent way, so we make sure we cover our flanks on the legal side. Let's not let that deter us."

City staff will present a model ordinance to the council members later this month, and expect to start implementing it on October 1.


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23 comments
S Aten
S Aten

I guess the Mayor is too busy running DISD (wink, wink) to have time pinning down city staff on this matter.   18 people seems like too many people to inspect only 300 homes.   I wonder if they are trying to protect someone rich and powerful who owns a bunch of these homes?   Jimmy has always been a fair individual so I would guess the inflated numbers come from higher up in city govt.

Guest
Guest

I love this city.

"Listen, we can't afford to paint bike lanes. It's too expensive.""We just can't afford to keep the swimming pools and libraries open.""We don't have the money to run the water feature at the Main Street Gardens.""We can't afford to regulate boarding homes and try to protect our vulnerable population."

"You want to spend a couple of billion dollars to build an unneeded road in the river? Fuck yeah we can afford that! How 'bout a fancy bridge, too? Fuck Yeah!"

"What? You want us to fix the roads we already have? Sorry, we can't afford that."

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

If these 18 new inspectors are as competent as the code enforcement guys I've dealt with, things will not much better.  The building code inspectors are the absolute worst.

Oak Cliff Townie
Oak Cliff Townie

Dallas IS A CAN DO CITY ......

In This case I guess they don't want to ?

Oak Cliff Clavin
Oak Cliff Clavin

Seems only reasonable these operators be required to have licensure and inspections if they're gonna cash the SSDI checks of the mentally ill and dispense their meds.

mark zero (Jason)
mark zero (Jason)

I'll believe it when I see it. This is the city that cared more that a puppy died from cruelty than that a boy was starved to death by his parents. We suck at the brother's keeper stuff.

Uppercase Matt
Uppercase Matt

I think Griggs needs to take a CLE on what "probable cause" means.  Shutting a door is not probable cause of a crime that would justify a search warrant. 

Ed D.
Ed D.

"... and what if boarding home operators use Jedi mind tricks on inspectors? We need people trained to remember that these are the droids they're looking for."

Gabe
Gabe

Dallas has ~1m people and decided it needed 1m a year to inspect boarding homes. Texas has ~26m people and needed 50m?

That context makes it sound like Dallas is doing pretty good. What were the eyebrows being raised at?

Darrd2010
Darrd2010

Mayor Rawlings agreed. Sort of. "This is obviously a complicated issue," he said. "There are legal, neighborhood planning, and enforcement issues. But ultimately it's about human beings, and we've got think through this and make sure they're put front and center." He's talked with groups of senior citizens recently, he said, who "had a lot of passion on this issue."

"I concur that we've got to keep pushing this along," Rawlings said, "But do it in a prudent way, so we make sure we cover our flanks on the legal side. Let's not let that deter us."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't the Mayor say this just yesterday about the toll road?Sooooo, in other words, we don't have a plan in place, don't have time to create one, 'and one more thing,I -really- have -an -appointment -I -gotta go."

Texaspainter
Texaspainter

Suburban Idiot to replace Queen MaryFuck yeah!

RTGolden
RTGolden

If they're providing medical care and dispensing meds, they already fall under regulatory and licensing guidelines from the State.  How well that is enforced is another question altogether.I believe this HB gives counties and cities the ability to regulate standards of living, max occupancy and things of that nature.  Code enforcement is already in the city's bailiwick, if they choose to do it.

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

 First, I am puzzled that a city attorney would be making legal arguments founded in criminal law; he probably knows as much about warrants as an avid viewer of Law and Order; clearly a red herring. Second, yes they may shut the door and require a warrant, but there are reasons to support a warrant, including reasonable cause that a person is being harmed or mistreated.  But this is unnecessary, as the boarding house owner has agreed to reasonable inspections when it acquires the boarding house permit; in effect they waive their 4th Amendment rights.  Again, very puzzled that a city atty is trying so hard to stop this regulation.  If the city decides to do it, the atty needs to figure out how to get it done.  I think I smell Suhm in this somewhere.

Guest
Guest

I kind of think, though, that if a city has a legal right to inspect your premises according to state and local laws, you don't so much need probable cause that the facility is doing anything wrong before getting a court to order the facility to allow the inspection.

rc
rc

 I think he's using the 'where's there is smoke, there may be fire' mentality.... sort of like when Family Services makes house calls on parental custody issues and a slammed door usually is a bad sign.

RTGolden
RTGolden

I don't think you're making the proper comparisons.  Dallas has ~300 boarding homes, according to past DO articles and a much smaller geographic area to cover than the State would have.  How many boarding homes are there in the state that would fall under these regulations?  How widely dispersed are they?

Dallas is inflating the size of the staff necessary and, very likely the costs involved.  I believe the number they actually floated was $1.3mil and 18 staff members, including 8 inspectors.  The city has a grand total of 3 sign inspectors who field way more than 300 permit applications, sign violations, pre/post-inspections, etc annually, why would it take 8 to inspect these 300 or so homes?

http://blogs.dallasobserver.co... 

The Credible Hulk
The Credible Hulk

Also: "I'm sure there are smart, passionate folks on both sides of this issue" (tm.)

Anna Merlan
Anna Merlan

Exactly. Boarding homes can help residents take their own meds, but they can't dispense them. That's the main difference, and why these places aren't state-regulated.  

The model standards drafted as part of the ordinance deal with quality of life issues, like cleanliness, how many people can sleep in each room, etc. They also state that operators have to report suspected abuse, neglect and injury, as well as resident deaths. 

Cliff Dweller
Cliff Dweller

 Just business as usual from our city attorneys.  Count up the number of law suits they've managed to win or even avoid in the last -say- five years. . .

cp
cp

It sounds to me that's what Griggs was trying to bear out. 

primi_timpano
primi_timpano

 Excellent point.  If you can inspect 4 houses per day, multiplied by 20 days a month, eight inspectors,and 12 month per year, my math gives me 7680 inspections per year.  That is 25.6 inspections a year for each of the 300 boarding homes.  Even if you need an entire day to inspect a home, you are able to inspect a home every two months.  This seems plenty robust, especially with all that back office help.

RTGolden
RTGolden

On the other hand, they could have found the money to do this at a $1mil/year budget for 200 years.  Instead they built a bridge they didn't need leading to development they don't have.

Oak Cliff Clavin
Oak Cliff Clavin

Dispense,help with... a distiction without a difference in reality. They store the medication and give it out to assure compliance,without the accountability of a true health care facility. Most of the people I've seen actually do prefer to live in boarding homes compared to larger facilities, and it's probably a better model than stacking them all in one place. But the city, county, state, whoever ought to do a better job checking in on these places, particularly when the operators serve as payees for these folk's disability check.

If we can potentially break off millions to line the pockets of PSH developers, seems like we could find some resources for keeping these places in line. Then again, I really have no idea how government works most of the time.

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