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City officials adding COVID-19 rules to rental-inspection plan

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Inspectors will have to wear glasses and gloves and take other precautions, and dwelling entry could be suspended or even stopped during the pandemic, under a COVID-19 policy city officials are asking the Carroll City Council to add to its first-ever rental-housing-inspection plan.

The COVID-19 policy is in response to City Council and public concerns and comes just days before the Carroll City Council is expected to vote on the third of three necessary readings for the ordinance to go into effect.

The rental housing ordinance has passed two previous readings on votes of 4-2. The City Council will meet Monday at 5:15 p.m. at City Hall. The meeting can be accessed virtually on YouTube and through other sources.

Bottom line: inspections won’t take place when infection rates are high in the city, and they will be limited during the pandemic.

City officials, of course, hope the rules will be temporary as the pandemic lifts, with the language drifting into memory along with the virus. But for now, it is very real.

“In the interest of public health, when new COVID-19 case counts are high, the city may suspend certain rental housing inspection activities,” City Manager Mike Pogge-Weaver said in a memo to city staff. “The suspension of some or all rental housing inspections will be based on the positivity rate and incidence rate over the past 14 days in Carroll County.”

Here’s how it will work: The city will suspend inspections of occupied rental housing units when the 14-day positivity rate in Carroll County is above 7.5 percent or over the past 14 days there are more than 30 new cases in Carroll County (or 15 per 10,000 residents).

The city will suspend inspections of unoccupied rental housing units when the 14-day positivity rate in Carroll County is above 15 percent or over the past 14 days there are more than 60 new cases in Carroll County (or 30 per 10,000 residents).

At the sole judgement of the city’s code enforcement officer, the city may conduct complaint-based inspections if the complaint is an immediate life and safety hazard, Pogge-Weaver says in the memo.

The following are the best practices the city will use for all rental-housing inspections when there have been any new cases of COVID-19 in the past 14 days in Carroll County:

Facial protection:

— Mouth and nose covering for everyone during the inspection. This may require the city to provide masks for tenants. Owners and building managers attending the inspections will be required to have their own protection.

— Glasses will be required for all inspectors.

Disposable gloves or hand sanitizer:

— Gloves will be worn by all inspectors. Gloves will be disposed and replaced for each dwelling unit or hand sanitizer will be used by the inspector after each dwelling unit.

Inspection procedures:

— The inspector will refrain from touching anything within the units. The landlord or tenant will open doors, turn on water, flush toilets, turn on switches, etc.

— Where possible, the tenant will vacate the unit during the inspection.

— Inspection time will be limited to less than 5 minutes if the unit has not been vacated. Multiple visits may be necessary to complete an inspection.

A tenant health verification will be completed before the inspection begins, with tenants verifying:

— No one with a fever within the last 14 days is residing in the residence.

— No one there knowingly came in contact with someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

— No one currently having other flu-like symptoms is in the residence.

The rental housing plan would create an inspection regime on a complaint basis or every three years with an annual permit fee of $35 for the first unit in a complex, and $10 every year for each additional unit. Landlords could be hit with municipal infractions of up to $500 if they fail to make corrections after inspections.

Smoke detectors would be required in the bedrooms of all rental units, and certain standards would have to be met on electrical and plumbing work, with a host of other structural requirements city officials say are common in other cities and enhance the safety of tenants, law enforcement and firefighters who may be called to houses and apartment buildings.

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