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Published: Saturday, 10/6/2001

Beyond the home inspectors' radar

BY MARY-BETH McLAUGHLIN
BLADE REAL ESTATE WRITER

Many areas in Ohio, including the growing city of Findlay, do not require new or renovated homes to be inspected before a family moves in, which could leave owners with troublesome houses.

It is an issue that is of growing concern among building inspectors because of the increasing number of people opting to build outside city limits. A bill is expected to be introduced soon in the Ohio Legislature that calls for the development of a statewide uniform building code for homes.

Proponents say such codes and inspections help assure homeowners.

“It promotes safety and quality construction,” said John Walters, chief building inspector for Lucas County and president of the Ohio Building Officials Association. “You can always adopt the national model code and build in extra regulations.”

Michael Billmaier, chief building inspector for Wood County, said of the inspections: “They're not a panacea. If there are two nails out of a shingle, we're not going to catch that. But if there's a column missing from underneath a beam, or if you have a faulty wire, or if there's a potential for a sewer gas leak, we're going to catch those things.”

Residential inspection codes are different from zoning codes, which spell out where a home can sit on a property, for example, and which almost all communities have.

Many northwest Ohio municipalities have their own building inspection departments or rely on a county office, but there are pockets that have nothing. In Lucas County, Toledo, Oregon, and Maumee handle their own inspections (Maumee also handles Whitehouse's) and the county does them in all other local cities, townships, and villages.

However, in Fulton County, only Wauseon and some other communities require home building inspections. Hancock County has no building inspection department, and Findlay does not require residential inspections.

On both renovation projects and new construction of homes, building inspectors check periodically for many things - whether the foundation has been poured correctly, the frame is sturdy, the wiring and plumbing are up to code, whether the furnace is properly vented, and more.

Vince Squillace, executive director of the Ohio Home Builders Association in Columbus, said his organization supports a statewide residential code.

“The only impediment is resistance by local governments that don't want to give up their constitutional right to select whatever code they want,” he said. Some municipalities create their own code, and others follow established models, which could cause confusion for builders who work in several cities, he added.

About half the 20,000 residential and commercial inspections handled by the Lucas County office in a year turn up problems that must be taken care of before the buildings are occupied, Mr. Walters said. In Wood County, about one of every seven inspections among the 22,000 annually discover problems to be taken care of before occupancy.

“We do about 16 to 18 different inspections on a house,” said Mr. Billmaier of Wood County. “Frankly, we think we do a service. But there are people in the rural areas that don't want that government intervention into their castle.”

Such a place is Findlay, a conservative community that has fought a residential building inspection code since the late 1940s, said Gary Ziegler, the city's development services director. Each year, more than 100 homes are built in the city, and 50 to 100 more are built within a mile of the city limits, he said.

When a furnace that had been improperly installed killed three people in the 1950s, Findlay adopted a plumbing and heating code, he said. But voters have twice rejected a city-council-approved residential building code, he added.

After a nearly three-year debate, the city passed a dilapidated-structure code that allows Mr. Ziegler's office to act when a building is in a rundown condition.

“I think the feeling is that this particular community has thrived without a building code, so why do we need one now,” Mr. Ziegler said. “Then the question becomes: is a government-administered inspection a deterrent to development rather than assisting in its development? There is no real basis to come up with an answer.”

One person who thinks it would be a deterrent is Jim Koehler, a developer in Findlay for 44 years. He said he knows of no home that has collapsed because of structural defects.

“[An inspection code] automatically runs up all costs of building, and usually the industry itself has a tendency to police its own problems,” he said. “And nowadays, with almost every sale that goes through hires a private inspector. It's better to have the private sector to police their own.”



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