Anthony Giacalone makes the suggestion following last week's fatal triple-decker fire in East Boston.
The city won't even hire enough inspectors so that ISD can actually do its job. The safety issues and massive amount of lost revenue from not fining the epidemic levels of code violations is mind boggling.
How can anyone expect the city to inspect smoke alarms in buildings, when obvious safety violations aren't even fined? There was an article in the Courant a few weeks ago how most of the fire escapes in the city aren't even properly inspected and maintained. Asking the city to check smoke alarms at this point is like asking a cop during a riot to cite someone for jaywalking.
There's 255,000 units of housing in the city of Boston. Semi-annual inspections??
Let's be generous and assume that an inspector could check 20 housing units per day.
You get about 47 weeks of work per year out of an inspector, after vacation time and holidays. That's 235 days of work per year. At 20 per day, that's 4,700 inspections per year per inspector.
If there are indeed 255,000 housing units in Boston, then you'd need to hire 55 full-time inspectors to cover them all. Round up to 60 inspectors to account for sick days and other exigencies.
You'd have to buy and maintain vehicles for them all to drive around in while doing their inspections, plus paying for their gas. The vehicles would probably need to be replaced every 1-2 years due to wear and tear from being on the road all the time.
At a salary of $30,000 per inspector (it would probably be higher than that, but remember we're being generous to the guy who proposed this plan), plus 100% overhead for benefits, plus $10,000 per hear in vehicle purchase, maintenance, and gas, you're talking about an expenditure of $4.2 million per year.
And then, of course, after every unit is inspected, the next time the smoke detector goes off because somebody's smoking a cigarette or frying fish, they're just going to take the battery back out.
Or people could stop being freakin' idiots, think for themselves, and make sure they have working smoke detectors.
Please stop confusing the issue with the facts - you're a troublemaker.
If you don't know if your smoke detectors work, that is just Darwin working his magic.
That annying "low battery" beep...hmm what do I do? Spend a few bucks to keep the life-saving device running or save a few bucks and go buy a pack of smokes. Throw those silly batteries out!
Include that in your enforcement.
You could also have the city just inspect buildings that are renewing leases. Ones that are bought and sold every year are already inspected by the fire dept so you can count those out.
Smoke detectors don't do any good if the batteries are allowed to die or are removed, which is what usually turns out to have happened when there's a fire and no smoke detectors go off.
You can't fine the landlords for either of those situations, because it's absurd to expect landlords to replace dead smoke detector batteries, and they have no control over tenants removing them. You can't find the tenant because the only time it's going to come to light is if there's a fire, and a fine on top of a fire is pretty gratuitous.
What really should happen is that just as the city started at some point requiring newly constructed or renovated housing units to have sprinklers, they should also start requiring newly constructed or renovated housing units to have smoke and CO detectors that are hard-wired into building current.
Then, if a tenant damages one of the detectors, the landlord can take the cost of fixing it out of the security deposit when the tenant leaves.
'Tis true, city already requires inspections of all apartments before they are rented out. Each time they are rented out. Cost is $50.
Guess what percentage of landlords do this?
Enforce the current law before adding another level of bureaucracy.
Enforce the current law before adding another level of bureaucracy
They can be tough to stop beeping if you don't know what your doing.
a couple of years ago. I quickly discovered that a) all my detectors are interconnected (not necessarily a bad thing) and b) the only way to kill them completely was to pull the main breaker for the unit (I live in a two unit condex, so access to the breaker panel wasn't an issue).
And, just in case you're wondering, I replaced ALL the smoke detectors the following morning.
Honestly, I don't need my neighbor's 'Darwin' setting my apartment on fire, thanks though!
Inspections wouldn't necessarily have to be done by the City. Car inspections are privatized. Why can't other inspections be privatized?
And while apartments are supposed to be inspected every time there's a new tenant, that's rarely done. My guess is if one was to ask the City how many apartment inspections they've done in the past year, the number would be incredibly low (nowhere near the actual number of apartments in the City).
Privatizing car inspections works because service stations are already around and do lots of other stuff, so its economical for them to do car inspections as one of the many things they do.
Apartment inspections are not the same thing, for reasons that should be obvious. Privatizing required smoke detector inspections would cost more than hiring city employees to do them.
.... and car safety inspections should be eliminated; most states do not have safety inspections at all. And of those states that do have safety inspections only a few, and Mass. is among them, have annual inspections. This year NJ is ending auto safety inspections.
As with car inspections, there already is a whole industry of home inspectors currently in place (anyone purchasing a home hires a private home inspector). Most home private inspections run anywhere between $200 to $300 for about a 2 hour long inspection (again, this is for an overall and detailed home inspection--not a smoke inspection). Current smoke detector inspections generally take 10 to 15 minutes tops and cost $50 a unit(these are currently done before a home closes on a sale). It's not unreasonable to suppose a private smoke detector inspection would cost anywhere between $50 ($50 being the current price of a smoke detector inspection done by the City of Boston) and $100 (accounting for "price gouging" from the private sector).
This wouldn't entail as much reinventing the wheel as one might think...
Home inspectors benefit the people who pay them. You're proposing a system in which they will potentially be harming the people who pay them. The potential for fraud and graft is huge.
If they are to have any teeth, it would have to be possible for them to issue citations upon finding violations. That would make them essentially law-enforcement officers. I'm pretty certain that the law as it currently stands wouldn't allow that (heck, the law as it currently stands doesn't even allow police cadets to issue traffic citations), and that changing the law to allow it would be a huge deal and not likely to get enough traction in the legislature to be successful (nor am I convinced it should be).
Note that car inspectors don't enforce the law. All they do is give you a sticker or not. The law is enforced the by cop who pulls you over and notices that you don't have a current sticker or the cop or meter maid who gives you a ticket for same. What, are we going to have enforcement officers going from apartment to apartment looking for the "smoke detector inspection sticker" in every window?
There is no incentive for turning a car that passed inspection into one that didn't between inspections. Furthermore, cars that pass inspection don't tend to suddenly become unroadworthy. In contrast, there is a lot of incentive to disable smoke detectors between inspections (so they don't go off when you smoke a cigarette / cigar / joint / whatever or fry your dinner), and they will reliably fail when their batteries fail.
Landlords and homeowners (if you try to apply the law to homeowners) are not going to go quietly when you tell them that they have to pay $50-$100 per year to prove to the state that they've got working smoke detectors. They'll object, with good reason, on both financial and civil-rights grounds.
Current smoke detector inspections are generally done when a house is up for resale. Citations are not issued. Either one receives a certificate of compliance or not--again, not much different from auto inspections. Private home inspectors do not work as contractors for those who hire them--they're there to inspect.
Given the propensity for governmental and bureaucratic corruption in the state of Massachusetts (i.e. bribes, patronage, etc), one could make a strong argument for privatization.
Current smoke detector inspections are done by the fire department inspectors, who are officers of the state, and it is illegal to complete a house sale without a certificate of compliance.
Private home inspectors are certainly working as contractors for those who hire them. They are almost universally hired by the buyer to protect the buyer's interests. The whole point of a pre-house-purchase home inspection is to find out if there's anything material you need to know about the house you're buying that isn't immediately obvious.
As noted above, all of this is irrelevant, because unlike auto inspections, inspecting smoke detectors is unlikely to actually keep them working between inspections with any degree of reliability. All that will keep them working between inspections is (a) if they are hard-wired and difficult to disable and/or (b) if the people living in the houses actually want them to keep working.
How many people intentionally do things to their cars to make them non-compliant between inspections? Yeah, there are a few people who soup up their car engines in ways that cause emissions issues, and there are people who get into accidents that damage required equipment and don't get it fixed, but the latter are not intentional and both categories together are a vanishingly small minority. Furthermore, if your car is non-compliant in a visible way and you're driving around in public, then sooner or later you're going to get caught by a cop and given a ticket for it.
In contrast, lots of people disable their smoke detectors, battery-powered smoke detectors would always fail between inspections, and there's no way to get caught with a non-working smoke detector.
In short, inspections won't work, so talking about whether it would be practical to do them is pointless.
I think you're misunderstanding the term "contractor" when used in the above reference. While a home inspector is hired to do an inspection, the home inspector is not hired to make repairs to a home (that's generally where a conflict of interest arises, when one is hired to inspect what one is supposed to be fixing). It is possible to hire someone to inspect off a checklist and send that report to the City so that the City itself can issue a certificate of compliance (with regulations in place so that the one doing the inspecting isn't the one doing the installation).
Given the City's inability to follow through on current required inspections, it makes sense to privatize. For example, the City of Boston has been lax in its inspection of fire escapes throughout Boston (fire escapes need a certificate of compliance every x number of years--the Boston Courrant just ran a story on this and found the City to be lax in its enforcement of this rule). And while the City requires all apartment rentals be inspected when there is a change in tenants, very few landlords follow through on this requirement. The city doesn't have the efficient manpower to follow through on these required inspections nor to enforce its inspection rulebook.
I disagree inspections don't work. I've seen many Boston homes that don't meet the City's smoke detector requirements. But because there's a requirement that one obtain a Certificate of Compliance prior to the sale of a home, I've seen owners who are forced to bring their homes into compliance right before a closing. Requiring that property owners obtain a certificate of compliance every x year or face a fine would force them to properly install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It's more important that government regulate the industry that does the inspections to insure there are no conflicts of interest rather than require an inspection the City isn't going to follow through with due to government inefficiency, lax regulations, and lack of manpower.
Hardwired detectors and alarms are already required in any new or renovated units. If an electrician does something like $2,000 or more in work the safety fixtures have to be added by law and are initially to be inspected by the city electrical inspector. This is, of course, assuming the work is actually done with a properly issued permit.
Privatized inspections in this case would probably lead to massive cases of fraud. The best solution would be to fully staff ISD and add this to their jurisdiction.
Sending an inspector out to check smoke alarms alone doesn't make much sense. But if the inspector is there to do a full check on the property anyway, like they are already supposed to annually, it would make sense.
The revenue from fining the hell out of absentee slumlords would help pay for all the inspectors, the housing stock within the city would be far safer and better maintained. Parker 'Mission' Hill, the back side of Beacon Hill, East Fenway, Audubon Circle, Kenmore, Alston, and Brighton would be very different neighborhoods with regular inspections and fines driving absentee slumlords out of business.
Phase it in over several years.