BELL — The City Council, in response to the concerns of local real estate brokers, has temporarily set aside a proposed ordinance that would require city inspection of the interior and exterior of all houses that are for sale and correction of any code violations that are found.
Representatives of the real estate industry will meet with members of the council and city staff in the next few weeks to iron out differences and possibly amend the proposed ordinance, which was introduced in July.
Two points in Bell's proposal have alarmed some in the real estate industry: The ordinance would call for inspectors to go inside homes to check for health and safety violations, and the required inspections are estimated to cost as much as $125.
Lynwood and South Gate have ordinances similar to the one proposed in Bell, but they do not require interior inspections and their fees are considerably lower.
Those who oppose interior inspections in Bell fear they will go beyond what is necessary and make homeowners liable for fixing minor violations that would ordinarily go unnoticed.
The city ordinances go beyond a state disclosure law that took effect in January, which requires home sellers to inform prospective buyers of any known building code violations or defects, but does not require inspection or the correction of violations.
Despite opposition to some of the details of Bell's ordinance, real estate agents in the area generally endorse the concept of pre-sale inspections, saying they are good for real estate sales, help upgrade communities and reassure buyers.
This attitude is a change from two years ago when South Gate's ordinance met stiff resistance from the real estate industry, according to Mark I. Sutton, South Gate director of building and safety.
At that time, "Realtors saw the ordinance as another hoop they had to jump through," he said, but "now they are starting to use it as an advertisement."
Inspections Were Free
One thing that helped make the South Gate ordinance popular with the real estate industry was that until recently the city did not charge for the required inspections. Two weeks ago, however, the South Gate City Council authorized a $25 fee to recover about one-fourth of the nearly $90,000 that the inspections cost the city each year.
Inspections in Lynwood, required by an ordinance passed in November, cost homeowners $75. The fees were set to cover the city's costs, but Lynwood's community development director, Vicente Mas, said it will be a few more months before the city will know if the rates need to be raised or lowered.
Russ Cogar, president of Western Realty in Bell and chairman of the committee formed by the realty board to discuss the ordinance with Bell officials, said he hopes the proposed fee can be reduced to about $65. A revision to permit the fee to be paid through escrow rather than up front by the homeowner already has been discussed by the council.
The Bell City Council is opposed to subsidizing the cost of inspections and has emphasized that the fees--which would not be set by the ordinance--are meant only to cover the city's costs. "We're going to listen seriously to the Realtors, and look at the cost factor," Councilman George Cole said. But the inspections are "a cost we don't want to bear," he said.
'It's Another Story'
Cogar also criticized the city's proposal to go inside homes. "I could go into any home anywhere and find something wrong," he said. "I'm all for these inspections, but once they're inside, it's another story."
David Meyer, Bell's director of community development, said the city is seeking legal advice about inspecting the interior of homes. "We don't want to assume responsibility," by implying that the city's inspection warranties the property to be without defects, he said, and added that the city had envisioned a walk-through inspection only, and does not intend to peer "behind walls."
The South Gate and Lynwood ordinances focus on detecting illegal garage conversions and house additions that can be seen from the outside. Montebello, which will consider a pre-sale inspection ordinance soon, will also target illegal conversions, City Planner Paul Deibel said, and will not inspect the inside of homes.
Bell's proposed ordinance is most similar to one in Compton, on the books since 1977, that calls for the inspection of home and apartment interiors to detect health and safety violations. Inspections there cost property owners $25 for each of the first two units, and $5 per unit after that.
Exterior Clues Used
Officials in South Gate and Lynwood agree that an inspection of the exterior alone can usually detect illegal interior conversions.
"If garage doors have not been opened for a while, windows and doors have been added and plumbing fixtures are visible, you can tell it's been converted," said George Bowden, Lynwood's senior building inspector.
Committee chairman Cogar said he is also bothered by the lack of definition of standards in Bell's proposed ordinance.