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Tulare County Considers Red Tagging Drought Stricken Rental Homes

Ezra David Romero
Valley Public Radio
Okieville, an unicorporated area west of Visalia, is just one Tulare County town on the brink of going entirely dry.

Tulare County is ground zero for drought. More than 2,000 household wells have gone dry leaving families without water. The county has provided tanks and water to many homeowners, but as FM89’s Ezra David Romero reports, officials says their hands are tied when it comes to providing the service to renters.

The conversation at The Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting this week centered on how to prevent around 200 rental homes in the region from being red tagged as uninhabitable. The problem? The residents have domestic wells that have gone dry and their landlords haven't been able to find a solution.

"We're not going out there and red tagging lots of houses immediately, because that's not even feasible to do. It gives you an option of how to deal with that."

While the county has provided tanks and water for many owner occupied homes with failed wells, state regulations prohibit them from doing it for rental properties. The county can deliver water to those homes but it's the responsibility of the homeowners to pay for the tank installation.  Several hundred landlords have been either unwilling or unable to do that.

Supervisors like Phil Cox say they're concerned because people renting out houses should be able to provide standard needs for tenants.

“I want to make sure that the landlords are not only taking care of not only  their property, but their tenants,” says Cox.

That puts people renting from homeowners who say they can’t afford installation or the tank in a bad spot, potentially losing their residence. But deeming homes unsuitable for living because of water issues is a still long way off. Steve Worthley is the Chairman of the Board.

“We’re not going out there and red tagging lots of houses immediately, because that’s not even feasible to do," Worthley says. "It gives you an option of how to deal with that.”

Credit Tulare County Emergency Services
Tulare County Emergency Services
About forty domestic wells go dry in Tulare County each week.

The county says red tagging 200 homes would cost the county over $80,000. To avoid that expense, one possible solution is to give homeowners a year to find a water source. If needed, the county has a program to relocate renters, but Timothy Lutz with the country's Department of Fiscal Operations says relocation isn’t a popular idea. Many of those who live in the rental homes are farmworkers.

“Areas where you have agriculture generations have been here and this is how they live," says Lutz. "They know how to get work.”

Still Supervisor Worthley says finding a solution is important.

“The bigger picture is keeping tenants in place, maintaining a cash flow to the land owner and maintaining the property," Worthley says. "There is nothing worse as you know is having people moving out of your house and the deterioration that goes with that.”

The county also faces another problem: having enough water to fill all of the tanks it's already installed. Each week 40 new households in the county ask for tanks. In some parts of the county, especially in the north, there's not enough water to meet the need. County officials say they're working with cities like Dinuba to purchase any extra water they may have so the county can keep people in their homes, and the tank refill program running.

The Board of Supervisors will revisit the issue in two weeks. 

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