Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Inspection, Construction Fees Withdrawn Again

Proposed ordinances to increase inspection and construction fees were withdrawn for a second time Tuesday (Sept. 5, 2006) and several real estate agents called for them to be dropped altogether.

Last month, the City Council agreed at the agenda session to vote on the ordinances, only to have them withdrawn at the regular meeting. This time, they were on the printed agenda, but withdrawn at the agenda session. Members of the real estate community called for a meeting with the administration to review the increases, which they said would damage their industry.

The city’s Certificate of Compliance program calls for an inspection at the time of a home sale or transfer of an apartment to a new tenant. The property owner is responsible for requesting an inspection and either the buyer or seller of a property or a landlord must bring the dwelling unit up to property code standards. The current fee is $50 per unit, but the proposed ordinance would increase it to $175, or 350 percent more.

Construction fees would see similar increases.

Wilma Campbell of the John C. Campbell Agency called the ordinance “a very bad piece of legislation” that would also adversely affect seniors trying to sell their homes.

On the proposed construction fee schedule, she said, “I think it’s going to drive developers away from the city.”

John Campbell called the fee schedule “off the chart” and said while other cities have amenities such as waterfronts and other attractions, Plainfield’s main draw is its “very rich housing stock.”

“Don’t shoot a spear through the heart” of the real estate industry, he urged.

City Administrator Carlton McGee said the ordinances were being withdrawn “not because they’re not needed,” but because “the administration is prepared to talk about this some more.”

The city has been struggling with how best to improve the Inspections Division and in response to resident Helga Roberts, McGee said the division is understaffed and under-funded.

Robertson said she has been reporting code violations for 38 years and sees no improvement.

“We’re going to have to invest money in code enforcement,” McGee said.

The cost may be borne either by those who use the system, such as real estate agents and landlords, or by taxpayers in general, he said.

“It’s a question of who pays for it,” he said.

Another pitfall in raising the Certificate of Compliance fees is that the property owner or landlord must request the inspection.

Resident Dottie Gutenkauf said she was glad the fee schedules were pulled, because they were “pretty steep.”

But in terms of how the fee schedule would kick in, she said, “If the landlord doesn’t tell you, you don’t know.”

The City Council’s next agenda session is Sept. 18, at which time a revised version of the fee schedules may be brought back. The next regular meeting after that is Sept. 20.

--Bernice Paglia


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