The College Park City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to pass an ordinance authorizing biennial inspections of some dwelling units in certain hotels and apartments, which are currently inspected once a year.
Hotels and apartment buildings that qualify for these inspections must meet several requirements, which include complying with building and fire codes, being under unified on-site management and having sprinklers and fire and smoke alarms installed.
The inspection process allows for living spaces and hotel rooms in certain buildings to be inspected every other year, according to the ordinance.
The inspection fee will be reduced by 25 percent, which could mean an annual $105,000 loss for the city, Public Services Director Bob Ryan said. Inspection fees are bundled in with the cost of occupancy permits, District 3 Councilman John Rigg said, and are paid for by landlords and building management.
Rigg said he supported the proposal because it would help "quality of life concerns in our residential neighborhoods … [and] would produce intangible benefits to our residents that would more than outweigh" any drawbacks.
The Public Services Department currently conducts inspections, according to the ordinance. College Park resident David Dorsch, who testified against the ordinance, questioned why the fire department will not be carrying out these inspections instead.
If the purpose is to check for life safety systems such as sprinklers, that's "better done by the fire department," he said.
"Not only do they have the expertise in the building safety, but going through each of these buildings, they get training on how the building is laid out, so they know what they're up against when they might be called to fight a fire in that building," he said.
Dorsch discussed how the number of total annual inspections will decrease by 50 percent, while the fee for inspection for landlords and management is decreasing by 25 percent. He said the cost of inspections should be further reduced.
"To me, this says volumes of why the city inspects these buildings and not the fire department — it is about the money, not safety," Dorsch said.
City manager Scott Somers said when a fee is set, the intent is never to simply increase revenue.
"The goal is to be revenue-neutral, and to do that, we need to justify all of our dollars when we set a fee," he said.
District 2 Councilman P.J. Brennan said most enforcement issues stem from single-family properties, particularly rental properties. High-rises typically have management with "every incentive" to keep the buildings operating, so they may not need city inspections.
"It's kind of redundant for the city to inspect it after the property management," he said.
Anyone can request a city inspection if they feel that their property management or landlord is doing an insufficient job, Brennan said.