• Occupancy Inspections

2-14-08
Guy W. Midkiff

This week the city rolled out the usual suspects usual-suspects.jpgand reported on occupancy inspections and how successful they have been over the last year. Some may recall that I vigorously opposed occupancy inspections, last year, because they represented another needless expansion of city government. The city’s argument was that we needed them for safety reasons (sound familiar) and suggested many miraculous benefits (such as reductions in municipal insurance rates) would come from these big-city inspections. (Remember, our city has not had a single loss of life from a fire in decades, thanks primarily to a great fire department and natural safety barriers such as; insurance and liability requirements, and potentially devastating law suits.)

During a City Council live broadcast, I looked into the eyes of each city councilperson and the Mayor. My question was simple, “If this new ordinance is so vital to the city, how many of you have actually read and understand the full scope of this ordinance.”

Almost immediately, literally every eye shifted to their desk and one, maybe two hands (at most) slowly unfolded towards the sky. The room was packed and almost in unison, most people leap to their feet and began clapping. My point was made. Ultimately we did not prevail, but we did manage to change the positions of several of the council.

Unfortunately, the local newspaper chose to side with the Mayor and inaccurately painted the opponents of inspections as being merely “landlords” with an agenda. But anyone that attended the meetings knew this was inaccurate, as a cross-section of residents was in attendance.

Defects. Many residents have the mistaken view that the city somehow expresses a warranty in the event a defect is found after a real-estate transaction. Unfortunately this belief is unfounded. According to city ordinance:

bad-sign.gifSECTION 500.100 CERTIFICATES NOT A WARRANTY.

The City clearly makes no warranty or representation, whatsoever, as to the condition of any building. So in plain English, you’re on your own and the inspection is not worth the paper it is written on. Which brings us full circle, in this discussion: Why do we need them?

The Actual Ordinance: √SECTION 500.100 CERTIFICATES NOT A WARRANTY.

In issuing a Certificate of Occupancy, the City does not intend to, nor does it warrant, insure, or guarantee to the holder thereof, to his or her assignee or to any other interested person, that there are no violations of any provision of this Section or any other ordinance. The City makes no warranty or representation, whatsoever, as to the condition of any building.

I think it is clear that property inspections, initially, were envisioned as just another way to gain revenue for the City. The proof of my assumption was made clear when the City Attorney rolled back, considerably, the cost of inspections out of fear that pending Hancock litigation would recognize the inspections for what they were – just another tax by the city, on its citizens. This would make the City liable for tens of thousands of dollars in return obligations, a risk they sought to mitigate by bringing the fees back to parity with costs – a smoke screen.

Government Growth. As predicted, the inspections required new men and equipment to be purchased, expanding ever more, the tentacles of City Government.

Let’s be clear, the vast majority of property owners in Washington roll the cost of these inspections right back onto the shoulders of its renters. So once again, city government is hurting those in our community who can least afford it.

Like our airport, maybe this is just another way for us to appear uptown.

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Published in: on February 14, 2008 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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