n much the same way the Newton City Council suspended its rental housing inspection program to address issues brought up by local landlords, the mayor on March 6 proposed the commercial property inspection program be temporarily put on hold until similar problems are looked at by an ad hoc committee.
The ad hoc committee — which was comprised of council members Randy Ervin, Evelyn George and Craig Trotter — worked through the residential program issues and had the building trades board have an opportunity to review those issues based on the information relayed to staff.
“I think we need to be doing the same thing with our commercial program,” mayor Mike Hansen said. “So what I’m asking, council, is a consensus. That you allow me as your chief executive officer to suspend that commercial inspection … until you all have an opportunity to meet with the commercial property owners.”
The temporary suspension would not last more than 60 days, Hansen said. Council members were in consensus to let the mayor suspend the program.
Council member Randy Ervin said some of the confusion he’s heard about from commercial property owners are related to the registration fee. Some people thought they were getting charged inspection fees per business, when it should be per building or per property for inspection fees, Ervin said.
Newton Fire Chief Jarrod Wellik oversees the commercial property inspections. He clarified the city inspects the whole property when there are multiple occupancies. But each business needs to register with the city. Wellik said this is for safety purposes as it provides the city with contact information.
Hansen said the ad hoc committee will meet with commercial property owners and listen to what they have to say, then bring the information back to council.
UPDATE ON RENTAL HOUSING INSPECTION PROGRAM
Erin Chambers, the city’s community development director, reviewed the outcomes of the building trades board meetings about the rental housing inspection program. The building trades board is a five-member board that makes recommendations on construction regulations, licensing and permitting.
“The building trades board made several recommendations to the city council, which will be forwarded to the council at a future date for your action,” Chambers said. “First of all, they recommended no changes to the adopted codes. Landlords can file an appeal to the building trades board on code questions.”
The board also recommended nuisance items that are not in the building — like a yard — will not be noted violations necessitating a residential re-inspection. Those issues will be forwarded to the police department’s community services officers to be dealt with as any other issue on owner-occupied properties.
Other recommendations include making enhancements to the checklist provided to landlords and allowing electronic re-inspections only when there are no major violations and three or fewer minor violations. Like Chambers mentioned before, the council will have to take action on these recommendations in the near future.
City staff are already implementing administrative changes to its inspection program and processes. ImageTrend software is being used for inspections, which generates an inspection report that Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler said includes code references and pictures.
“I think that’s going to be helpful for people,” Muckler said. “…They can go back to the code and verify if what they’ve been asked to fix is a code violation.”
George later added, “This report that has the photos and the link to the code will be extremely helpful not only to the landlords but I believe also to us as council members and to the staff. To be able to have a record and to be able to audit the work that is done, we have a very clear record.”
Ervin praised the work of the ad hoc committee and the input the group received. As of March 6, the rental property inspections conducted by the city’s contractor have not reported any violations. Still, Ervin is looking forward to how the presentation and follow-up has changed.
Rental property owners have always had the ability to appeal their inspections, but Chambers said the city may not have done a good job educating people on how the process works. From community development’s standpoint, staff want to make sure the appeal process is known to all property owners.
There is no fee to appeal an inspection.