No better case can be made for rental inspections than when a terrible fire happens. In San Bernadino, California, 26 dwelling units were destroyed in a fire. When inspectors went back to check out the remaining units, over 50 code violations were found including exposed wires and other electrical problems. There were also building code violations including illegal construction and property maintenance issues. Yearly inspections uncover these problems before they become troublesome. It’s fashionable to rail against government intrusion and landlords convince their tenants they shouldn’t cooperate with building inspectors but this is an area where we know people will die if they don’t have an outside party advocating for their safety. It’s all about saving lives.
Access to building permit information has taken an impressive step forward in New York City. DNAinfo.com reports that people with a smart phone can scan a building permit at a site and have access to a variety of information:
“Anyone passing by who wants to know more about a project will be able to scan the QR code with a smart phone and learn about the property owner, the scope of work and any complaints or violations related to that project,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who tested the technology for himself using a permit tacked to the door of 25 Broad Street.
It’ll probably be a chance for most people to play with their phones but the app might reduce calls to the building department in certain situations.
Do you work in a jurisdiction where housing prices continue to fall? Check out this report at Clear Capital to see if your jurisdiction can expect more problems. Housing prices continue to fall due to foreclosure sales and continued unemployment but some area are harder hit than others. Areas with a lot of REOs are especially troublesome. The report found that:
…..every spike in REO saturation (REO saturation calculates the percentage of real estate owned properties sold as compared to all properties sold in the last rolling quarter) has corresponded with a decline in home prices, and vice versa.
The report was not all gloom and doom, finding that some areas of the country are doing better in 2011. But it looks like our problem with foreclosed homes is not going to go away anytime soon.
There are consequences for the homeowner who has work done on his or her home without a permit beyond contending with the local building official. What if a fire breaks out and an insurance claim is filed. Will the insurance company pay? Sam Schneiderman, broker owner of Great Bostom Home Team recently addressed this issue on the Bostom.com’s blog, Boston RealEstateNow. He asked a number of insurance agents and brokers what would happen if someone finished off the attic of a home without permits and a fire destroyed part of the residence. One possibility was that the insurance company would pay the claim and then sue any prior owner responsible for work done if negligence were involved. (Often homeowners don’t realize that work was done without a permit unless they check with the local building department before buying a residence). Another insurance agent said that the company might not cover construction defects. Homeowners looking to save money are being penny-wise and pound foolish when they try to save a few dollars by not applying for a building permit. Having a professional inspect the property not only protects their safety but also protects against liability in the future when it comes time to sell the residence. Work performed without a permit must be disclosed at the time of sale. Failure to do so could result in legal complications for the seller down the road.
I actually escaped the snow in Chicago this week by heading up to the Region III ICC conference in Minnesota where the weather was sunny. I always have a great time at that extraordinary conference. It was great to see that attendance was very healthy and maybe we’re beginning to see a thaw in some of the gloom we’ve all been dealing with since the economy tanked. I taught Advanced Legal Aspects for Fire Code Inspectors and the inspectors asked a lot of good questions. We had a healthy discussion about post-deprivation hearings after an emergency evacuation. There’s quite a few cases now that make it clear that people (tenants and owners) who are deprived of their property rights in a building because of an emergency evacuation order, have a right to be heard after the fact at such a hearing. Most of the time no one actually appears at a hearing or files a notice appealing the order of the fire official. But, in order to meet the requirements of the fourteenth amendment, they must be given the opportunity. By keeping an appropriate record of the hearing or appeal, the local jurisdiction can easily avoid a civil rights lawsuit for depriving an individual of his or her property without due process.
My friends at the Women in Code Enforcement and Development ICC group have their new website up and running. You can find it at www.wicedicc.org The group is dedicated to providing mentoring, advocacy and education for women in the profession. It is the first national ICC chapter and was formed in 2007. It’s an honor being a colleague of these very dedicated women.