Real estate professionals in Ventura claim proposed new rules invade property owners’ privacy and unfairly target those selling buildings in the city.
Building and safety officials for the City of Ventura are proposing a “resale” ordinance that would require property owners to inform potential buyers of all building permits pulled for the designated commercial or residential property for sale.
Officials would generate a permit report, which would then be given to the buyer before the close of escrow.
Sue Taylor, Ventura’s code enforcement supervisor with the building and safety department, said the new ordinance would protect buyers from purchasing property now and having to pay later for code violations.
“We are switching our emphasis to proactive rather than reactive,” she said. “We want purchased property represented accurately and not with egregious code violations. The real objective is to give disclosure and to abate any safety or health code violations.”
The report would also reveal any construction that was not permitted, including turning a single-family home into a duplex or a triplex by constructing walls, turning a garage into a livable area or building an addition.
Taylor said such single-family home conversions are popular in Ventura due to the high cost of living in the area.
Other violations would include electrical or sewer-related installations done without a permit and without inspection.
The cities of Oxnard, Port Hueneme, Thousand Oaks and Santa Barbara have such ordinances already in place.
The biggest commercial property code violation are tenants or property owners turning their space into a living quarter, which is a safety and health concern since commercial properties are not built to residential specifications, Taylor said.
Taylor said that in the past the only way the city would know about these violations is when something went wrong and the new property owners were left fixing and paying for the problems left by the prior owners.
“I see at least one code violation a week, or 52 a year,” she said. “It can be a significant hardship for people. We are just protecting the buyer.”
The ordinance also provides a stipulation that city inspectors would do an exterior inspection, meaning building and safety officials would inspect the property from a sidewalk or a street to discern if there are any code violations.
If a city inspector observes any illegal construction, immediately dangerous fire, electrical, mechanical, plumbing or structural hazards or property that is not within the city’s zoning code, the city could also conduct an interior inspection.
If the inspector sees nothing out of the ordinary but the buyers or sellers are concerned about code violations, they could also request an interior inspection.
Taylor and other building and safety officials have been meeting with stakeholders, including real estate agents, property managers, home inspection people and appraisers, to discuss the proposed ordinance during the last couple of months.
While Taylor said the stakeholders said they were on board to get the new legislation passed, officials for Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors support only a permit report, but feel an exterior inspection is a privacy violation.
“We have had pretty intense discussion about how undesirable the ordinance was,” said Dale King, president of Ventura County Coastal Association of Realtors and a Prudential real estate agent. “The city is intruding on a private transaction.”
King also said this new ordinance is not really about a fair property transaction but about a new revenue source for the city.
First, Taylor said she aims to charge about $40 per permit report per transaction. The $40 would cover processing an application submitted by the seller to obtain the permit report.
Second, once the exterior inspection was completed and violations did occur, the property owner would either have to destroy the structure or pay for a permit. This could cost the property owner thousands of dollars by either devaluing the property with the destruction of a structure or it would go to the city in permit fees.
King is concerned that righting the wrong of prior property owners or developers, in which code violations could have been made decades before, could hold up or stop the sale of the property.
In an already troubled real estate market in Ventura County where real estate transactions total only about 100 per month versus the norm of 150 to 200, the crippling of a sale would only hurt stakeholders, King said.
“I can tell you there are brand new houses not up to code,” King said. “And you can find violations in 85 to 95 percent of all property transactions.”
King also said if the City of Ventura wants a truly up-to-code housing stock, every home in the city needs to go under inspection at the same time.
He said the person who is selling their home and the person who stays in their home for decades need to be treated the same, and both should have to get their homes under compliance.
King said it is the responsibility of the property owners or buyers to fix code violations on their own, but Taylor said Ventura is far behind in enacting legislature that would protect potential property owners.
“We are a little behind,” Taylor said. “We are progressive in some areas, but in budgetary crunch times we focus on some things that are the biggest value for our buck, which is maintaining our housing stock.”
She said keeping a healthy number of homes on the market that are safe and up to code is invaluable to the City of Ventura.
While King and his colleagues feel the exterior and interior inspections are crossing the line in the arena of private property transactions, in Santa Barbara, one of the cities that has already enacted a resale ordinance, Building and Safety Department Plan Checker David Miles said each real estate transaction the city requires permit reports and interior inspections.
Taylor said she wants to keep interior inspections optional and to keep the fees low, compared to hundreds of dollars for the same process in Santa Barbara.
Taylor said the proposed ordinance would go before the council and hopefully be passed sometime this summer.