Common council unanimously passes rental safety verification program
SOUTH BEND, Ind. --- The South Bend Common Council voted unanimously for a program the city said will improve the safety of rental housing.
Through the Rental Safety Verification Program, landowners with properties being rented to individuals and families in South Bend are subject to inspection. Inspections will begin immediately at properties a part of open code enforcement cases, referrals by the St. Joseph County Health Department, and at the request of landlords.
“We all want it,” said Tammy Bell, who is a landlord in South Bend. “If you’re good landlord this would be no problem.”
Suzanna Fritzberg, deputy chief of staff to the Mayor, said the program places the responsibility on the city and a property owner to establish a common foundation of safety standards.
“We’re re-organizing this as a process change than instead of placing the burden on a vulnerable renter to report a condition,” she said.
She said there is already a complaint based process but that many feel a sense of vulnerability, prohibiting them to use it. Common Council President Tim Scott said some of his constituents have told him that they are ‘absolutely scared’ reporting their poor living conditions.
“They’re absolutely scared of getting kicked out and being homeless,” he said. “This is dealing with some of the worst problems we have in the city.”
In the city of South Bend, 40 percent of properties are rentals, according to city data. Outside of government-inspected housing, units constructed in the past 10 years, and units that have received satisfactory real estate sales inspections in the past three years, the city hopes to inspect a total of 7,500 units by mid-2025.
However, there was a concern from the local realtors’ association, who said the ‘good, rule-following’ landlords could overwhelm the team of three inspectors from the South Bend’s Department of Code Enforcement assigned to RSVP.
“We didn’t want them to consume the implementation in the beginning of the process,” said Jim McKinnies, president of the local realtors’ association. “In 2019, their going to be focused on open cases so we’re trying to really work with the city.”
The inspection will take 20 minutes. According to the city, it will focus on the following safety standards:
- Fire safety (smoke alarms, ingress/egress)
- Properly-installed plumbing and electrical systems
- Mold or mildew
- Chipping or peeling paint
The city said inspections will not focus on cosmetic issues. A landowner will be aware of the issues before the inspection in order to fix the issue.
If it passes the inspection, the owner will receive a certification of inspection which lasts five years. Current and future tenants can have access to the certification online at the RSVP’s coming website or by calling 311.
If a landlord fails an inspection, it will follow the following process:
- $100 fee for a 2ndinspection, doubles each additional time
- $250 penalty if the property is not certified
- $300 penalty if certification is expired