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A look at inspection practices in Bloomington-Normal

CHAMPAIGN -- The profile of Bloomington-Normal closely mirrors that of Champaign-Urbana.
They are twin cities that boast a major university – Illinois State University, which has an enrollment of nearly 20,000 students.

Bloomington has 73,026 residents, and Normal has 52,056, compared with Champaign’s 79,389 residents and Urbana’s 39,641 inhabitants, according to 2008 Census estimates.

Normal has more than 1,000 rental properties and 8,000 rental units, and it systematically inspects the interior of all rental units, including single-family houses and duplexes, for compliance with life and safety codes and maintenance codes. Owners are required to register their properties and pay an annual registration fee based on the size of their rental property.

Bloomington had an estimated 2,900 rental properties registered for 2009. All residential rental property is required to be registered.

Bloomington’s rental inspection program differs somewhat from Urbana’s, and is very distinct from Champaign’s. Its program has been in place since 2003.

As in Urbana, Bloomington property owners must register their properties with the city – but in Bloomington, owners pay per building, not unit, at a rate of $30 per building.

Also, Bloomington has a more extensive and tiered inspection system, which ranks units on a four-grade scale based on their number and level of code violations:

  • Class A units are in excellent condition with zero or only a few minor violations. Owners of these properties are rewarded with inspections on a five-year basis.
  • Class B properties are those found to be in good condition but with some minor violations that require re-inspection; they are inspected on a two-year cycle. 
  • Class C apartments are in decent condition but may have major violations; inspectors revisit these properties every year. 
  • Class D units have unsafe violations that may be threatening to human life or safety. These properties are declared to be “unsafe structures” and are dealt with immediately.

Unlike Urbana, Bloomington charges property owners for each inspection. The fee is $30 per building of up to three units and $10 for each additional unit. Therefore, owners with well-maintained buildings only have to pay the inspection fee every five years instead of every year.

Bloomington follows similar procedures to those of Urbana in notifying property owners of inspections 15 days in advance but is more flexible for time allowed for owners to repair violations.

Instead of having a specific time limit for certain types of violations, inspector Candace Beer said, the city works with owners to determine a reasonable amount of time to complete the work.

“I would much rather (the owner) put the money into their building than into fees or court costs,” said Beer.

Negligent or non-compliant property owners, however, can face fines of $50 to $500 per day per violation. Bloomington inspectors have the option to issue the fines, expediting the process.

Bloomington began with only common-areas inspections which Champaign has conducted by the fire department for compliance with the limited fire safety standards.

The program expanded to include property code violations and maintenance issues as the city council became more concerned with the exterior appearance of the buildings, Beer said.

The city council also became concerned with the interior condition o

f apartments and expanded the inspection program into its current form.
“In essence, we want to make sure we maintain our housing stock and maintain that value in our housing stock and maintain our properties and keep our landlords responsible,” said Alderman Jim Fruin. “It’s to maintain everybody’s value and maintain safe living conditions. It’s being done for the right reasons.”

Like Urbana, Bloomington uses a grandfathering system, which allows buildings that were up to code when built to be held only to the International Property Maintenance Code and not to local codes for newer buildings. In this way, essential safety provisions are enforced, while more aesthetic features are not required to be updated.

Lindsay Ignatowski

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