Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Code Compliance Fees Increasing

Fees for Certificate of Compliance inspections will more than triple under an ordinance up for first reading at tonight’s City Council meeting.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The city began the Certificate of Compliance program several years ago to ensure that at the time of purchase, either the buyer or seller would make repairs to bring a home in compliance with the property maintenance code. For apartments, it is the landlord’s responsibility to make sure a unit is in compliance before leasing it to a new tenant.

The present $50 fee will increase to $175, a 350 percent increase, under terms of the ordinance. For each additional unit, the inspection fee would increase from $25 to $175. Commercial and industrial inspections would go from $150 to $300. Mixed-use buildings now inspected for $150 would see an increase to $300, and fees per unit would also increase 350 percent from the current $50 fee.

The measure would have to pass on two readings with a public hearing before final passage.

The new schedule comes as the city anticipates several new condo projects and increased density around transit hubs.

Existing property is only subject to the inspection fees at turnover of occupancy. One hitch for rental property, which comprises about half the city’s 15,000 households, is that the landlord must request the Certificate of Compliance inspection. The city has no way of knowing when apartments turn over.

The City Council recently repealed an ordinance meant to guarantee safe housing and prevent overcrowding. That ordinance called for registration of dwelling units and annual inspection. A special seven-member inspections unit was created and inspectors were to receive new cars and computers for their work. But Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier told the council the plan wasn’t working and most of the staff was gone.

Wenson Maier also informed the council in July that the city had sought advice from the state Department of Community Affairs on how best to run the Inspections Division, which former Mayor Albert T. McWilliams called the source of the most complaints from the public during his administration. She said the state advisers called for better work standards, like being on time for the job. None of the inspectors knew how to enter data, she said. A plan to extend inspections to weekend hours was not yet feasible due to the fact that City Hall was not open then, she noted.

--Bernice Paglia


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