Fire inspection ordinance passes after FOCUS edits

By Kristin Maglabe

Some business owners and aldermen still had concerns when an inspection ordinance passed 4-3 Monday at City Council.

The fire safety inspection ordinance was created by city staff in cooperation with DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks, shareholders and property owners. The ordinance calls for registration, inspection and maintenance of commercial buildings in DeKalb. This excludes home-based businesses, government buildings and residential buildings.

The first draft was issued in August, and it has since been revised because of concerns expressed by FOCUS, a group of business and property owners dedicated to involving themselves with local government.


FOCUS representative Will Heinisch, who had played an active role in the reformation of the ordinance, asked to change the words “building” and “compliance” in the ordinance.

“Building” confused residents about the difference between commercial businesses and other businesses and “compliance” is a legal, unfriendly term to businesses, Heinisch said.

“I continue to get calls and concerns from people with home-based businesses and residents concerned that it referenced … their property, even though I know it says commercial building inspection ordinance from the get-go,” Heinisch said.

Heinisch asked the city to add a disclaimer stating any mention of the word “building” is in reference to a commercial building.

The term “compliance” should be changed to “building condition,” as “compliance” is unfriendly to businesses, Heinisch said. FOCUS requested a change of wording in previous meetings, but city staff kept the wording the same and still has.

“I don’t think that, from a legal standpoint, [‘compliance’] gives the city more legal authority to enforce anything as owners do have a right to go to trial, although they might not be aware of it,” Heinisch said.

Third-party inspections

The ordinance states inspections done by a third-party must be verified by the city even if the party is Insurance Service Organization-certified. The organization is a group that uses data from across the country to provide guidelines for building inspectors to use.

Heinisch said he understood why the city should verify non-Insurance Service Organization inspections, but he was unsure why certified inspections should be reviewed because of the officiality of the organization.

City Attorney Dean Frieders said because Insurance Service Organization inspections can be so specific, it is necessary for the city to make sure third-party inspectors follow the ordinance guidelines.

“Not every ISO inspection is going to satisfy these requirements, and I say that because you can do an ISO inspection that is very focused,” Frieders said. “You could do an ISO inspection that will satisfy ISO requirements applicable to fire extinguishers, or applicable to the sprinkler system of a building without looking at any other issue.”

Sixth ward Alderman David Baker asked if city staff would meet with FOCUS again in a last effort to incorporate the changes brought up by Heinisch. He said the council should postpone their decision for the next meeting to allow time for another meeting. Frieders said city staff saw the changes as unnecessary, but if council directed them to hold another meeting they would.

A motion to direct city staff to amend the ordinance was denied, and the ordinance passed as is.