Inspections ordinance delayed as city, owners debate

By Kristin Maglabe

Business and property owners convinced the City Council to push back the first reading of a commercial building safety inspection ordinance to Feb. 9 after disagreement from business owners.

The Fire Safety Registration and Inspection Program would require commercial and industrial buildings to undergo safety checks every one to three years, depending on whether they pass inspection. Government and entirely residential buildings, as well as home-based businesses, would be excluded from the safety checks.

The ordinance asks for buildings to be registered on an annual basis. Will Heinisch, FOCUS DeKalb representative and property owner, said annual registration would create “busy work” for the city each year and simple verification would be more efficient for businesses and the city. FOCUS DeKalb is an organization of business stakeholders who involve themselves in the local government to maintain a business-friendly community.

Before City Council convened Monday, Heinisch said he was able to meet with city staff and Fire Chief Eric Hicks to “discuss the actual words of the ordinance and how it affects the concept of the ordinance.” Heinisch, along with other property owners, said despite changes being made, more time was needed to complete an ordinance both sides could comply with. Concerns still remained since Heinisch and city staff were only able to read through half of the current ordinance at their meeting, so they will have another meeting prior to the next City Council meeting.

The motion to push the first reading of the ordinance to the next City Council meeting, Feb. 9, was passed with a unanimous vote.

Legal representation

One issue Heinisch brought up at City Council was the problem with who a “legal representative” might be according to either the city or the property owner. The current draft of the ordinance states the 24-hour access key holder of a building will be the owner’s legal representative.

“This, in most cases, is really two different people,” Heinisch said. “You should not designate the person who has 24-hour emergency access because that could just be a simple maintenance person. They might not be the legal representative because that might be the owner himself or the attorney.”

Heinisch said his group would rather not designate a legal representative, but if needed the ordinance must be clearer on who they are looking for.

Business licensure

The ordinance states the city can take away a tenant or owner’s business license if an owner declines inspection in a private area of their building, including space where a safe or valuables are kept.

“There should be nothing about declining or revoking a license for simply an owner to decline inspection in part of the business or building,” Heinisch said.

Frieders said the ordinance is similar to the liquor code license in that if the city is to conduct an inspection, business owners who refuse the inspection may have their license revoked.

Tenant responsibility

Ted Heise owns two multi-tenant buildings near DeKalb Taylor Municipal Airport, 3232 Pleasant St. He asked how the ordinance planned to take into account the tenants’ responsibility versus the owner’s responsibility when it came to complying with the ordinance’s inspections. Heise said the Fire Department should have information on tenants in case there is equipment that should not be there because the landlord will not always have the ability to remove it themselves or enter the area used by the tenant.

Seventh ward Alderwoman Monica O’Leary said she was worried property owners would move their businesses to other cities, and she did not want businesses to be turned away because they could not comply with the ordinance.