Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Realtors Push Fee Rejection

A throng of Realtors turned out Monday (Nov. 20, 2006) at a City Council agenda session to show their displeasure at proposed increases in inspection fees related to house sales. The City Council agreed to drop that ordinance, but late in the meeting a related ordinance for construction fee increases also drew fire.

The city’s Certificate of Compliance ordinance calls for either the buyer or seller to bring homes in compliance with the city’s property maintenance code at the time of sale. Landlords are also expected to make sure apartments are in compliance before new tenants move in. The present inspection fee of $50 was slated to increase to $175, but a postcard and e-mail campaign among Realtors produced enough outcry to cause the council to drop the plan for the third time this year.

Long after most of the Realtors cleared out, the council heard officials say the increases in building sub-code fees were mandated by state policy that such offices should be self-supporting. The council agreed to put the ordinance up for a vote on Wednesday. But real estate brokers Wilma and John Campbell both said in public comment that many of their colleagues thought both ordinances had been set aside.

But Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said with a number of redevelopment projects coming, the cost of building subcode inspections would fall on taxpayers if the city did not increase the fees.

Much of the discussion on fees turned on the issue of whether users of inspection services or taxpayers in general should pay for the operations.

Before the meeting opened, the crowd jammed the rotunda, where city workers were trying to trim a holiday tree. Homeowner Shellece J. Earles minced no words on the fee increases.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “I don’t even know that they can justify it, considering the entire office is inefficient.”

Earles said the Inspections Division did not issue summonses equally and even gave out “false” summonses at times. She also said correspondence was mailed late and inspectors’ attitudes were “horrible.”

Frank Anthony, representing the 8,000-member North Central Jersey Association of Realtors, called the fee increase “unreasonable” as he waited for the meeting to begin.

In the meeting, Assistant Public Works Director Nagy Sileem said the city inspections were necessary for safety and the fee increases were needed because fees had not been increased for about a decade.

But Councilman Rashid Burney questioned the city’s role and asked for a review of Inspections operations. A council committee on Inspections will look into it, the governing body agreed.

--Bernice Paglia


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