South Bend’s Common Council approved rental housing inspections. Click on the link or read the article below by Jeff Parrott of the South Bend Tribune from February 26, 2019
SOUTH BEND COUNCIL OKs RENTAL PROPERTY INSPECTION
SOUTH BEND — The city’s Common Council on Monday night unanimously approved the administration’s proposed rental housing inspection program after it incorporated a major change sought by landlords.
Rather than beginning the program by requiring inspections of all rental housing in an impoverished near northwest side neighborhood, as was initially planned, the program will start with properties that the city’s case files already indicate have alleged health and safety problems. That means open complaints filed with the city’s Code Enforcement department, along with referrals of high blood lead-level cases from the St. Joseph County Health Department.
The administration also noted that it ultimately would expect to inspect only 7,500 of the city’s estimated 16,000 rental units, after accounting for units that are exempt because they already are inspected for federal government subsidies, have been built within the past 10 years, or have passed real estate sales inspections within the past three years.
At that rate, Code Enforcement expects to inspect up to 800 units this year and about 1,200 per year after 2019, inspecting all units by mid-2025, department Director Tracy Skibins told the council.
Next year, the city will move on to its initial plan of starting mandatory inspections in five Census tracts with the highest levels of lead poisoning. Four of the tracts cover the city’s northwest and west sides, and one of them is on the city’s south end.
The council, on an amendment by Council Member Jo Broden, D-4th, also voted to appoint two council members to the working group established by the bill to monitor how the program works. The council approved another amendment from council member Oliver Davis, D-6th, to have the council appoint two landlords and two tenants to the group.
The bill’s public hearing and final vote had been postponed from a previous meeting, after landlords voiced opposition at a council Health and Public Safety Committee meeting chaired by Broden. After that meeting, council members agreed that they wanted to take more time to address the landlords’ concerns.
The Greater South Bend-Mishawaka Association of Realtors acknowledged there are landlords outside their organization who don’t maintain safe and healthy rental homes, and the city should do something about them. But the association has said such landlords don’t reflect the majority, and the city would be wasting resources by basing the start of inspections on geography.
That’s because initially the bill offered landlords a five-year exemption from inspections if they voluntarily requested their rentals be inspected at the beginning of the program. Association President Jim McKinnies said that would have motivated the city’s best landlords to request inspections first, tying up Code Enforcement inspectors and taking the city longer to address unsafe and unhealthy properties. The city initially said it expected to inspect just 20 percent of all rentals within five years.
On Monday night, McKinnies spoke in the “supporters” portion of the public hearing. Had the administration not agreed to the change, the association might not have spoken for or against the bill at the meeting, McKinnies said afterward.
“We share the intent of the bill,” McKinnies said. “It may not be perfect but we look forward to working together with the city on implementation and improving it over time with the monitoring.”