Occupancy Inspections

3/7/09
Occupancy inspections have been a pet peeve of mine since I first heard city council was considering their passage.

I objected to them because they struck me as just another growth in government and invasion of peoples privacy. There was an ordinance passed that also allowed for the city to contract with Ameren UE to purchase private customer data in order for the city to determine more efficiently who is moving in and out of property. I think this is a miserable trend, and can only see such programs getting larger – not smaller.

(In full disclosure, I own several rental properties.) Last week I met with the city inspector in order to voice some of my concerns, such as:

  • Having the same rental unit inspected multiple times in one year.
  • Having escape path lighting installed on the outside of small buildings.
  • The fact that rental units that have the same occupant in them for 10 years or more, will never be inspected.
  • Several older commercial buildings will possibly never be inspected or have external emergency lights installed, because they 1) Will not change ownership 2) Will not have remodeling work which require permits.

The city does, however, have a very strong case for inspections – at a certain level. The inspector had me look at some field photographs of  properties that, in my opinion, should have been immediately condemned. I saw buildings that had raw sewage stewing on basement floors and running down  plumbing fixtures. In one picture, several washers and dryers were literally standing in water. Others had electric wires, in a tangled mess, running haphazardly from service panels. It was obvious to even a non-electrician, that “double-lugging” had been used.

Admittedly, these properties kick the legs out from under any argument against occupancy inspections. I guess I am naive, but I just could not believe property owners could endanger the lives of others in such a flagrant manner.

There must be a system in place that can identify and remedy these unacceptable situations. Maybe the solution is to handle these violations the way we handle many code violations – as complaint driven occurrences.

We can not hang our hat on the safety hook and then overlook a large percentage of the buildings in Washington. This should either be an absolute ordinance – one without exception, or complaint driven. It is patently unfair to allow some to avoid occupancy inspections and then property owners such as myself, to be inspected multiple times in one year.

If the city wants to continue down the road of absolutism, then we should immediately begin a program that inspects 100% of all structures and then put them on a re-occurring inspection cycle of every 2 or 3 years. Of course, I am against such a proposal because it would broaden the size and power of government even more than it is now.

The common sense approach would have inspections complaint driven with fines and penalties that would be commensurate with the infraction.

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