Hike in home inspection fees meant to tackle dilapidated homes


October 26th, 2011

Omaha, NE- The City of Omaha wants to increase home inspection fees to help tackle the cost of investigating problem homes. The Omaha City Council approved the increase yesterday, after citizens lined up on both sides to sway the vote. Also, changes to a current gun registration ordinance have been put on ice.

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Yesterday’s Omaha City Council meeting opened up with Public Works Director Rick Cunningham up at the podium, and explained to the council why they should support the increase of three fees implemented by his department. The fees dealt with inspection, technology training and zoning applications.

Rick Cunningham

Planning Director Rick Cunningham explains the three fee increases to the council. (Photo by Lindsey Peterson)

Cunningham said increasing the fees will help shore up costs to the department. The one-time inspection fee, the subject of most debate, is currently set at $41 and is only charged by the city when a violation is found. Proponents find the fee inadequate, and said it leaves violators unmotivated to pay it.

Susan Kuhlmann is with Omaha Together One Community, or OTOC, a multi-faith and multi-ethnic community organization. She took aim at violators’ non-compliance. “Instead of heeding the notice, they cavalierly ignore it, toss it in the trash like a piece of useless junk mail, and fail to make the repairs,” she said.

“And despite any re-inspections, the city charges no additional fee. So where is the incentive to fix the property?”

Cunningham said an increase in the fee would allow the city to place non-payment on a violator’s credit score.

Mohammed Assan, President of the Somali Butan Association, said lack of protection from slumlords and their unsafe properties have punished immigrants in his south Omaha community. He said the immigrants “were willing to accept the bad smells, the mice and the cockroaches, the bad carpet, the leaking water and the bad paint.” Assam said it took organizations like his to get tenants to let in inspectors.

Abandoned house

The City of Omaha hopes to tackle the growing problem of dilapitaded properties. (Photo credit to CityofOmaha.org)

“The city found several violations,” said Assan.

But John Chatelain, President of the Metropolitan Omaha Property Owners Association, said the city’s handling of dilapidated properties is shutting out the private sector. He said the city already inundates potential property owners with taxes and fees that dissuade them from purchasing and renovating properties.

“This activity I’m talking about is being regulated out of existence. Rather than sending the cost of doing business into the nosebleed section, you should be just glad somebody is willing to buy those properties, renovate them, keep them on the tax rolls and provide some housing,” he said.

After an hour and a half of debate, the City Council unanimously approved all three fee increases–the inspector fees rising gradually over two years from $41 to $125.

The council also voted 5-2 to postpone final approval of proposed changes to Omaha’s gun registration ordinance. The council will allow four more weeks to arrange a meeting with members of the Nebraska Firearm Owners Association to discuss concerns of the measure.

Assistant City Attorney, Michelle Peters, said she feels the gun owner’s organization prefers to make all gun registrations voluntary, which the city is unwilling to negotiate.

NFOA President, Andy Allen, said they will stick to the issue of aligning city regulations with state and federal laws per Councilman Garry Gernandt’s request.

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