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Realtors take issue with city inspection plan
January 16, 2013, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff

The city of South San Francisco is considering the inspection of homes prior to them being placed on the market to curb safety concerns but Realtors argue the plan is illegal and inefficient.

On Wednesday, the South San Francisco City Council will hold a special study session to discuss the proposal to create a residential point of sale safety inspection program. Under the proposal, a property owner would be required to have an inspection for possible code violations prior to selling the home. An inspection would cost $125 and would include a second walk-through if changes need to be made, according to a staff report by Fire Chief Phil White. Such a program, he wrote, would help curb ongoing building violations which cause safety concerns.

"Requiring the inspection to occur at the point of sale is recommended because this provides the best opportunity to identify and correct conditions that represent a serious threat to the health and welfare of the homes new occupants, or the public, by virtue of its unsafe, dangerous or hazardous nature, as well as ensure full disclosure of other conditions which are a violation of local or state code, that will need fixing,” White wrote in the report.

The San Mateo County Association of Realtors, on the other hand, describes the proposal as creating warrantless inspections that can result in tens of thousands of dollars in fines for homeowners.

If the city is hoping to improve health and welfare, the proposal seems ineffective, said Steve Blanton, executive officer of the San Mateo County Association of Realtors. Only about 2 percent of the housing stock in the city turns over annually. Under this plan, it would take nearly 50 years to check the properties, he said.

"As Realtors, we have serious practical and legal concerns with South San Francisco invading the privacy of its citizens with warrantless inspections, and interfering with a citizen's right to buy or sell their home,” Blanton said, who added the group was willing to work with the city but did not favor the proposal.

A recent review of completed home safety inspections showed the Fire Department completed 454 inspections in a 14-month period. During those inspections, 15 percent, or 68 homes, had a safety violation. Unpermitted construction — such as illegal bedrooms and/or garage conversions — was the most common violation followed by improperly installed water heaters and window bar violations. About 5 percent of the homes received a citation which, in total, created less than $5,000 in fines, White wrote.

Since 2005, White wrote that the city has received a large number of complaints for families living in a single-family home neighborhood near a property that was illegally converted into apartments or a boarding house. Code enforcement often found owners who said they were unaware that the setup was illegal because the home was purchased in that condition. Looking for illegal conversions was added to the safety checklist in 2008 as a result, he wrote.

The council meets 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Municipal Services Building, 33 Arroyo Drive.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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