Residents concerned about ordinance inspections, cost

By Kristin Maglabe

Residents claim the implementation of an inspection program will turn businesses away due to frequent inspections and costs.

The Fire Safety Registration and Inspection Program is an updated version of the original commercial property inspection ordinance. DeKalb Fire Chief Eric Hicks and the DeKalb Fire Department proposed the first, lengthier iteration of the ordinance in 2014.

“During the last four months, [the Fire Department] met with the new stakeholder groups and residents, and we have drafted this proposed ordinance,” Hicks said at the City Council meeting Monday.

Hicks and City Attorney Dean Frieders outlined the program.


The ordinance encourages property owners to provide floor plans for all registered buildings, and while providing floor plans is not mandatory, owners must identify public areas and vacant portions of the building. Fire safety inspections will include commercial and city buildings but not home-based businesses. Two city buildings have been complete as of last week, Hicks said.

“There will be no fee for these inspections, and the inspections will be done by on-duty firefighters,” Hicks said. “We will not need to hire any staff.”

The proposed draft includes numerous incentives to properties and business owners who comply with the inspections, Frieders said. The incentives include a building permit fee reduction, the city contributing to repair or remediation costs of a building and various other rewards, according to the draft in the City Council agenda.

But, in the case of refusal to inspection, the Fire Department can document violations that are visible on public property or in any right of way, according to the draft. The city also has the ability to “issue citations for violations noted, and shall have the authority to apply for and see issuance of a search warrant, administrative or otherwise, on a case-by-case basis.” The current draft does not mention fees in accordance to possible citations, but property owners are expected to comply.

These inspections will occur every one to three years. If a building passes inspections this year, the next inspection will be in three years. If a building fails, it is subject to inspection the following year.

Residents’ concerns

Several residents voiced concerns at City Council about how friendly the ordinance would be to businesses.

Accountant Marianne Anderson said the previous draft of the program included home-based businesses and said she was concerned they would be re-included in a future draft.

“Requiring annual registration of all commercial buildings is unnecessary and discourages people from moving businesses to DeKalb,” Anderson said. “It is an additional burden on small businesses already struggling to make it in the current business environment.”

Local business owner Linda Walt, of Walt Ltd., said she has worries over “grandfathering,” or exempting something from a new law.

The ordinance does not state which older buildings would be excused from the program. Property owners must know what is needed to be done in order to pass inspections, but since many of the buildings that need to be inspected are older and lack newer safety features, it can be hard to tell which of the buildings will be forced to update and which will be exempted, Walt said.

“What are you going to do about those buildings? I don’t think you want to put people out of business, but everyone understands that you want there to be safety, so I think that grandfathering is what gets us to that,” Walt said.

The City Council did not respond to the concerns at the meeting.

Mayor John Rey said only older buildings with significant remodeling will have to comply with current code instead of being grandfathered in.

“I was trying to understand the issue [Walt] was presenting on grandfathering because we have indicated that older buildings will not necessarily be brought within current code,” Rey said. “A 1978 building will be judged based on that 1978 code.”