This past summer, during the hottest summer on record, tenants of Seven Oaks Apartments took to the streets to protest deplorable living conditions, including concerns about air conditioning, sewage and pest infestation. Tenant organizing led to action from the San Antonio City Council to condemn landlords deemed “bad actors,” which ultimately resulted in the creation of the Proactive Apartment Inspection Task Force in October.

Now, 12 public meetings later, the task force remains at odds on how best to ensure that property owners are held accountable for failing to provide basic livability standards. In order to accomplish that, we must center tenant concerns. 

We are all former tenants at apartment complexes where we’ve experienced serious maintenance issues. Sylvia Flores began living in Seven Oaks in 2019 and immediately after moving in, her air conditioning would repeatedly go out. She pleaded with property management to fix the issue several times before filing formal complaints beginning in March 2022. The issue was not fully resolved until November after code enforcement intervened. Had code enforcement not intervened, there’s no telling how many additional tenants would have continued to suffer. 

Deborah Watts had lived in Seven Oaks since 2017 and experienced a series of electrical outages that led to a variety of issues. The lack of electricity led to a lack of air conditioning, and as an elderly woman who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, she had much reason to be concerned for her health. Watts also suffers from sleep apnea, meaning the lack of electricity quickly escalated to a matter of life or death. She was left with no other option but to leave behind her home in October 2022, despite code enforcement intervention earlier that year. This begs the question: will the task force create a policy that provides code officers with the necessary tools to incite action from negligent landlords? 

Meanwhile, across town in the Spanish Oaks Apartments, Angela Beckham struggled with a plethora of issues. In a haphazard attempt to fix a pre-existing sewage backup, the maintenance staff punctured holes in her bedroom and bathroom walls. This led to a swarm of mosquitoes in her apartment, adding to her existing pest infestation. When rats chewed through her high blood pressure and asthmatic medication, she experienced first-hand how maintenance issues can turn life-threatening. Despite calling code enforcement in early October, she left her unit without any action from the property manager. 

The conditions in which we were forced to live represent just a sample of the larger issue in our city. Neglected by property owners, maintenance issues leave our neighbors in unacceptable living conditions that threaten their health, safety and lives. And despite code intervention, the systems in place simply don’t go far enough to address tenants’ maintenance concerns. 

Pamela Cano-Desso, a member of the Tenants Union of San Antonio, protests the living conditions at Vista Del Rey Apartments last May.
Pamela Cano-Desso, a member of the Tenants Union of San Antonio, protests the living conditions at Vista Del Rey Apartments last May. Credit: Nick Wagner / San Antonio Report

City officials have been given the capacity to decide how we, as a city, respond to these negligent property owners and work toward basic livability standards for all San Antonio tenants. The goal of the task force and city officials is clear: healthy tenant conditions and consequences for negligent property owners. 

The Proactive Apartment Inspection Task Force will be discussed at the next Planning and Community Development Committee meeting on Thursday, Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. at City Hall. We encourage you to join us in recognizing the importance of basic livability standards.

Sylvia Flores

Sylvia Flores is a Texas Organizing Project member.

Deborah Watts

Deborah Watts is a member of the Texas Organizing Project.

Angela Beckham

Angela Beckham is a member of the Texas Organizing Project.