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Council working group on residential rental conditions still working through potential policy proposals

Vista Shadow Mountain apartments, from which about 100 tenants were displaced in 2021 for multiple code violations
Lori Decter Wright
Some residents of Vista Shadow Mountain were living without walls, floors or ceilings in their apartments.

A Tulsa City Council working group established to address substandard living conditions for renters still has a lot of work ahead, but it’s found some areas for improvement.

The group was convened in September as part of the council’s response to a large apartment complex near 61st and Memorial, Vista Shadow Mountain, being declared uninhabitable after the discovery hundreds of residents were living in crumbling, leaking buildings without heat or air, sometimes without walls and floors.

The working group is ready to advocate for a change to the state landlord-tenant act to outlaw retaliation against renters. Oklahoma is one of just a few states that does not protect renters from retaliation if they report poor living conditions.

Councilor Jeannie Cue said that change could push more people to come forward before conditions become downright dangerous.

"People are living in horrible situations. I mean, I've got a rat issue at one of my apartment complexes, and you can see. And I'm not talking about a mouse here, we're talking about it's a rat with the flooding issues they've had. And we just need more people to report and not be afraid," Cue said.

Councilor Lori Decter Wright said there also needs to be more education offered from official sources on tenants’ rights.

"We have good protections in place, but if people don't utilize them and then it's a crisis situation — Housing Solutions is doing a lot of tenant-landlord education, but I just think as councilors too, maybe in our town halls or in our circles of influence really help our constituents understand what their rights are and who to call," Decter Wright said.

The working group includes councilors, housing advocates, a Tulsa Fire Department representative and others. Decter Wright said they've met every Tuesday and plan to bring property owners into the discussion at some point.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.