Hot Topic at City Council Special Study Meeting for Home Inspections

By · October 21, 2012
If you missed the City Council Study Session for the proposed ordinance for Point of Sale Inspections, here is a bit of what happened.   The place was packed and it was standing room only.  Guess this is hot topic.   Fire Chief, Phil White presented why they should continue the current inspection program as they have been doing it for the past 30 years when Jack Drago begin the program.   It was presented that this program saves lives.   The next person to speak was Russ Lee, a former Fire Chief.  He referred to me by name and said he did not like the language of my postcard that I had sent out informing the citizens of the current program.  He said it was disrespectful.   Now don’t get me wrong, I think the fire department is a great organization overall, however, the inspection program is outrageous.  To you, Russ, I say, whoever is orchestrating this outlandish program is disrespectful to the homeowners of South San Francisco.  This is not the same program that it was in your day.   A couple of residents got up to speak on just that topic.  Bishop Gary Smith of the First Baptist Church complained that the attitude of the inspectors has changed and their inspections are subjective.  They come in looking to find something wrong.  He is angry and wants it to stop.   As a retired Sargent and narcotics officer, he knows exactly how to inspect a property and he said a warrant was necessary to conduct those searches.  That's what I've been saying all along.  Thank you Bishop.  Wish more owners would call or let me know about these situations as you did.   While there were a couple of other residents who came forward to say they wanted the program and to pass this ordinance, many of the residents were upset for one reason or another.   One homeowner said she wanted these ordinances to be put before a vote of the people.  She referenced to the newly adopted Sewer Lateral ordinance that was passed this year without a vote and was not widely publicized.   A rationalization made by the FD that there could be 8 families living in a triplex or that they needed to check the smoke detectors to be sure they are woking. When SAMCAR told them that there is a state law that states owners can self-certify, the FD didn’t trust that it would happen.   There are a few checks and  balances for the smoke and carbon detectors as well as the water heaters.  
  1.  The seller must sign a document that these items are in compliance at close of escrow.
  2. The listing agent’s job is to confirm that the seller complies
  3. The buyer’s agent  checks these items at any time during the sale
  4. Either the buyer or the seller usually has a home inspection and this neutral 3rd party can check these items.
Also, the disclosure paperwork is quite extensive.  There is the Transfer disclosure statement, a 9-page Seller's Supplement Checklist that is quite comprehensive, and then there is the Agent's Visual Inspection.  Some of the real estate companies have extra disclosures.  But, the seller must disclose to the buyer unpermitted rooms, whether or not they have permits, whether or not any work was done without a permit or anything undesirable about the property.  If the seller fails to disclose these items and more, the buyer's recourse is to go to mediation, arbitration, small claims court or a court trial. Who wants to go to court? How difficult is it to push the test button.  One Realtor also said that some warranties on the smoke detectors can be voided if they are tested the way the FD does, by spraying a substance at the detector.  The smoke detector batteries last 6-12 months. Are they going to come back to each and every house every year?   If the FD is worried that too many people are living in an unpermitted rooms and want to be sure all code violations are removed, what’s to stop a new buyer from adding unpermitted rooms after the purchase?  It is important that buildings be safe but are the citizens supposed to give up their rights to an illegal search.  Remember, they are not just checking to see if the smoke detectors are working and the water heaters are strapped correctly, they are going way beyond.  They are at times cutting into a senior citizen's only source of retirement funds to possibly live in an assisted living environment which is in itself very costly. Why not start a program, such as Christmas in July to help seniors who can't afford to fix their roof, paint their home, etc. instead of making life more difficult for sellers.  This is usually their only assest and the FD wants a piece of the pie in terms of expensive permit fees and penalities.  It is not unusual to have penalities of $1,000 a day for every day the work is not completed.   A man’s home is his castle and has an expectancy of privacy.  According to our SAMCAR attorney, these inspections are unconstitutional and an infringement of home seller’s rights.   The most upsetting resident, was a new buyer, who purchased a home and went to the City for permits.  He said what was to be a few thousand dollars has turned into tens of thousands of dollars.  Apparently, they started asking him to paint because the paint was peeling, then he said that they wanted him to open walls.  He was upset because he is still going through this and he sees no end to their requests.  After the meeting I asked Fire Marshall Luis DeSilva to help this poor guy because it just wasn’t right.   Realtors from the San Mateo County Association of Realtors presented cases where there were thousands of dollars in fines and penalties in what was supposed to be a Smoke Detector Inspection or a Home and Safety Inspection.   While the City states there was only $5,000 in fines, SAMCAR has documented information for over $250,000.  This documentation was given to the council with their  presentation.   A reporter, Tay Wiles had contacted me the day before the meeting due to reading this blog.  She wanted more information and then chose to come by the meeting.  If you want to read her story, go to for more information.   Another presentation was given by the SAMCAR attorney, Michele Zaccone. She stated that this program is unconstitutional. The reporter didn’t stay until the end so I will fill you in. Mayor Rich Gararino, wanted some clarifications as much paperwork was given to City council from SAMCAR. After some of the council read what they could and asked questions, Garbarino wanted to find a balance between what the Realtors want and what the fire department wants. The fire chief thinks POS inspections is when people are motivated as there is money in the sale(equity from the seller).  This is not always the case . The fire chief, says if there is no equity then the buyer can take on the responsibility. Well, let’s see, the buyer has to have money for a down payment, closing costs which can amount to a  few thousand dollars, money for home inspections, and appraisal.  if the seller can’t pay for the sewer lateral work, which can also be anywhere from $3,000-$10,000, is it right to ask that the buyer come up with even more money for unreasonable work to be done to satisfy the fire department so-called violations? Also, the buyer must up $7,500 to the City until the sewer work has been signed off.  In many cases, this is the buyer’s first home and has just enough money to purchase.  Who has an extra $15,000-$20,000 laying around when purchasing a home? A comment was made that we as Realtors want it to stop because it can be about our commission.  We don’t pay these outrageous fees and penalties, our clients do and it is totally unfair. The mayor asked what other cities do.  The response was that the FC has more passion(than the other Fire Chiefs?) and that is the reason he wants this program continued. It was also stated that the other cities are understaffed and overwhelmed. Someone got up later and made a comment that he thought the other FC would probably not be thrilled to hear they don’t have the passion that Chief White has.  I agree. The funniest comment of the night was when John Gieseker of Prudential, said the inspection found a toilet in the garage that was probably there when the home was built as the toilet was stamped with 1949, the same  date the home was built.  It was on the cement floor, looking undisturbed since the home was built.  The city wanted it taken out because it didn’t show up in county records.  His comment” How many fires have been started with a toilet?” When the mayor asked the realtors if we could live with the ordinance as written.  We responded that it we could not.  He asked about the ten items in the list of items that were to be inspected.   It was quite frustrating because we don’t want the ordinance at all.  John Penna, a former City Council member and Realtor,  said it the best.  He stated “The real issue is illegal entry!  It is unconstitutional!  It is not the job of the City to police someone’s home.  This is not a Health and Safety issue.” That says it all. City council would not make a decision and said they needed more time.  They suggested that we meet with the Fire department and come up with some type of agreement. After the meeting I had the pleasure of meeting Luis Del Salvo the Fire Marshall.  I explained my problem with the situation and the lies that from the city stating that there is an ordinance in the past.  Luis said the realtors are calling them for the inspections.  I told him that’s because their brochure states it is required.  Until recently, the SAMCAR website stated that this was required becasue they were told by the City that it was.  That has since changed.  I told him the FD needs to let the homeowners know that they do not have to allow entry which they are not doing. I must say, that Arthur Mosqueda the  Batallion Chief, was a big help to the sellers of a particular listing I had recently. Upon having the sewer lateral inspection, Barry Mamini, the public works inspector, found a second wye in the lateral that should not have been there.  He discovered an out building attached to the detached garage. He immediately called the City Planning Department to find out if there was a permit for this building.  They couldn’t find one.  The owner, having lived there since 1979, also did not have  permit documentation.   Next thing I know, there is a violation sent to the seller. With limited time, we were told it needed to be demolished or brought up to code.  Arthur, working also as the seller’s contractor, pushed the city to be reasonable that the building looked too good to not have a permit as it had the same exterior as the original building.  We also brought up the fact that when the house had been remodeled and enlarged 20 years ago with a permit,  no one from the city had a problem with this building.  It was a good thing that the seller still had the plans that showed this building showing that the City knew it was there.  With Arthur’s help, the city found an old paper file that showed it was built in 1952 with a permit. So instead of an $18,000 demolition repair bill, it was an $8,000 repair to bring it up to code.  The sellers think of Arthur as their “savior”.  Thank you Arthur, it could have gotten much uglier if not for your help.   But, why wasn’t the permit found originally?  For the FD to be so aggressive, they need to be absolutely sure their information is correct.  I have heard other similar stories.  Oh, the fee to obtain a permit for an $8,000 repair was $700!!  That's outrageous.   I bet if you went into any of the FD employees’ homes, including the City council and FC White, you will find code violations.  Codes change everyday.   Oh, and one more thing – the City is exempt from this ordinance if they are party to a transfer of title.  How convenient.  That’s like the politicians who are exempt from insider trading.  But don’t get me started.   I believe these inspections are a revenue generating program at the expense of unsuspecting homeowners.  Has this happened to you or a neighbor of yours?  Please give me some feedback.  These illegal entries have to stop and with your help they can. Feel free to contact me for the full staff report and proposed ordinance or contact the City.  
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