Wednesday evening city council chambers were packed with community members concerned about a proposed ordinance that would dictate the type of home inspection residents must go through before selling a home.
At a special meeting of the City Council, dozens of local homeowners, real estate agents from the San Mateo Realtors Association (SAMCAR), and officials from the South City Fire Department showed up to voice contradictory concerns.
The Realtors and fire officials both said that, if passed, the ordinance would simply uphold inspection practices that are already occurring. But some real estate agents and homeowners said that the current practice of extensive home inspections began only a few years ago.
Whether the current practices should be allowed in the first place, was also a point of contention.
“We’re really not doing anything new,” one fire official said at the meeting.
Yet Gary Smith, a pastor and resident of South San Francisco said “there’s been a change in attitude." Smith said his properties have been inspected about a dozen times, but only recently has he taken issue with them. “I’ve found that it’s quite subjective," he said, calling the practices "abusive."
At the meeting, one fire official described an incident in which South City fire fighters tried to find residents in a burning home, but were initially thwarted when they realized there was unpermitted construction that blocked access to the bedroom.
If one life can be saved by fixing code violations at point of sale, fire officials said, it’s worth the extensive inspection process.
Attendants who spoke at the meeting also disagreed on what exactly happens during fire department point of sale inspections.
Fire officials said the inspections stick to blatent or obvious code violations that could be life-threatening.
Yet one homeowner recounted a fire departement home inspection in which inspectors told him he had to repaint part of his house, which the homeowner said was not a life-threatening violation and cost him thousands of dollars.
Documents that Government Affairs Director for SAMCAR Paul Stewart distributed at the meeting showed expenses of tens of thousands of dollars residents were required to pay as a result of inspections.
Also at Wednesday’s meeting, speakers from both the group of Realtors and the fire department accused the opposing group of being motivated by financial profit.
“The real issue has to do with money,” said Russ Lee, a former South City Fire Chief. “Obviously that’s going to cut into the realtor’s commission.”
Paul Stewart of SAMCAR said that fees and fines make the fire department’s inspection program “a revenue producer” that just happens to be for public safety.
According to fire officials, their inspections cost home sellers $125, but the department spends about $132, which means they actually lose some money in the process. The department also provides one free pre-inspection.
Realtors said that buyers and sellers are already required by law to conduct home safety inspections in order to make a sale, and that the fire department inspection is redundant.
SAMCAR attorney Michelle Zaccone also said that the type of extensive home inspections that have been occurring in South City are an infringement on the Fourth Amendment, and that they are illegal without a proper warrant to enter the home.
South San Francisco is the only city in San Mateo County that conducts such extensive home inspections. When city councilmember Kevin Mullin asked what the reasoning was for this, a fire official said other cities’ departments may have been moving toward a similar process, but scaled back because of recent budget cuts.
“This is a difficult one,” Mullin said following the public comment period. “We’re trying to sift our way through all of this information.” He said the council would not take action immediately on the issue.
The topic has not yet been scheduled for a future meeting. Council may ask for an introduction of the ordinance at a regular meeting, if councilmembers decide to move forwrad with it, or they may hold a second study session. Check back for updates.
The proposed ordinance states that the inspections would be limited to checking the following:
- smoke detector
- carbon monoxide detector
- secured water heater
- electrical wiring
- no apparent fuel sources that would cause or spread fore or explosion
- no accumulation of debris, junk or garbage (according to code)
- improper building or maintenance (according to code)
- fire-resistive construction, fire-extinguishing systems (according to code)
- rooms used for sleeping, living, cooking or dining are designed or intended to be used for those purposes
The following would not be part of the full home inspection if the ordinance passed:
- climb on roof or in attic
- look behind furniture of wall hangings
- look in chimney or cabinets
- inspect under house
- operate appliances
- measure square footage of improvements, identify boundary lines, easements or encroachments
Tell us our exerience as a homeowner, seller, buyer, or inspector. How should the city act on this ordinance?