The city of Gainesville has passed, and Alachua County is considering, significant changes to how residential rental units are permitted. In the city, the new regulations begin on Oct. 1.
The regulations only apply to residential rental properties that have four units or less. State law prohibits local governments from regulating structures with more than four units.
There is much controversy on both sides of the regulations. Much of it has to deal with the cost and how it will get paid, as well as the process used to make observations and perform the inspections.
Those who support the changes say the new procedures create a method for improving structures that are substandard and below code. But while opponents agree that substandard housing needs to be improved, they believe many of the regulations in the new law are excessive and will result in a dramatic decrease in affordable housing. It is assumed landlords and property owners will have no choice but pass the increased costs on to tenants.
We will leave the bulk of the regulations for others to debate and focus, but from the perspective of a home inspector, experience has shown it is difficult to accurately describe what is being observed when on site, let alone sending photos that are not considering real-time subtleties.
For example, you can tell when a pipe is leaking but can you tell if that’s because it is plugged up, if there’s a hole in the pipe or if it simply needs tightening.
A Coral Gables firm has been hired to oversee the inspections that are required as part of the process. These inspections will include standards for attic insulation, plumbing, HVAC and fireplace chimneys. Additionally, the inspection will determine if walls and windows are air sealed.
Here’s the concern as seen by those of us in the inspection industry. These inspections will not be done by licensed and experienced inspectors hired by the firm. Instead, they will be completed by engineering students from the University of Florida.
The students will livestream the process for review by company inspectors.
We see problems with that method.
Can a non-licensed and inexperienced student be asked to interpret and describe all the conditions they see?
It seems obvious that the answer to that is no. That’s why they are livestreaming. But it’s hard to imagine that even a qualified inspector could determine if there are problems with plumbing (like the one previously described), HVAC and how well sealed the windows and walls are by watching a student livestream a walk through the home.
As inspectors, we see difficulties in capturing the situation and the magnitude in livestream images. Further, the fact that the inspector is only seeing what is presented may limit his or her ability to see the issue being presented in its full context. That could lead to over or under representing what should or could be done.
Our colleague, Elena Mendenhall, the director of property management for RE/MAX Professionals, can address the other problematic issue.
“If we are going to livestream, video or photograph inside a property, there are several things we must do in advance,” she said. “The first, and most important of those, is to gain approval from the property owner. And in the case of rental properties, which all of these will be, we also have to get approval from the renter(s) of the home, who will have personal belongings in the premises. Not doing so could be considered an invasion of privacy.”
My colleagues in home ownership and property management indicate that there are many more concerns about the regulations. I will leave that to them. But the idea of using a process like this for home inspection is indeed a disturbing proposition. If you are a property owner, you should follow this process carefully. One way or the other, it will have an impact on you.