Council members and O’Fallon landlords discussed concerns with the city’s new residential rental property inspection program at the workshop on Feb. 10.
O’Fallon has four inspectors who check properties for compliance with city electrical, plumbing, exterior and interior health and safety codes.
City ordinance requires all open rental properties to be inspected before occupants move in. The inspection program began in March 2010.
Several council members said they have received complaints from residents about the inconsistency and expectations of the inspections.
Mayor Bill Hennessy said he received calls from residents who said inspectors were requiring them to install equipment, like ground fault interrupters, not required for older houses.
“What I’m getting from property owners is our inspectors are making them put them in. I didn’t want to go into these older houses and make them put them in,” he said.
Director of Building Safety Nathan Lacey said there are some instances where items may need to be installed in older homes to comply with city code.
Hennessey and Ward 1 Councilman Rick Lucas both said they received complaints about inspectors finding new violations after follow-up visits to rental properties.
“The biggest complaint I’ve had is the inspectors gave a list the first time, those were fixed, and when they came back they added more,” Lucas said. “You can’t keep going back when you’re trying to get houses ready to rent.”
Ward 5 Councilman Mark Perkins said some residents would rather do away with they new system because they think it is unfair.
Resident George Dames spoke at the workshop and said inspection of his rental property cost him around $160 after he was required to replace cracked windows and several three prong outlets for two prong. He said thinks the inspection fees are too high.
O'Fallon inspection fees are $50 for apartments, villas and duplexes and $75 for single family homes.
“I’m disgusted with the inspection program,” Dames said. “They didn’t do a thing to make my house safer.”
Other residents echoed Dames’ concerns, adding they were unhappy when inspectors were not able to explain why certain installations or improvements were required. One resident said he was concerned the inspectors were not qualified to make the assessments.
Lacey said all inspectors are certified, have 7-20 years of previous construction experience and attend yearly seminars to keep up to date on health and safety codes.
Council members agreed inspectors should be expected to find health and safety violations on their first visit to a property. Perkins suggested if a third inspection is required, there should be no charge to the property owner.
“This is something I want to go back and review to see if we have any concerns or anywhere we need to tweak,” Ward 4 Councilman Bob Howell said. “My main concern is we make sure we are on an even playing field and we’re not overstepping our bounds.”
O’Fallon began a new customer service training program for all city employees at the beginning of January. City Administrator Keith Riesberg said under this training, inspectors are reminded to explain safety and health codes so residents understand why they being asked to make certain improvements.
The city administrator also said his office will perform an audit analysis to compare staff hours to revenue brought in by inspections, to see if any change can be made to the fees.
Riesberg said anytime an individual is enforcing a code or ordinance, there may be differences in what two people find. He encourages residents who have questions about their rental property inspections to contact the Director of Building Safety.