Op Ed: Fire Chief Carli: Council’s change to house inspections ordinance puts lives at risk
Last week, without much fanfare, the City Council voted 6-5 to change the word “shall” to “may” in the City’s occupancy permit requirements. In doing so, the City Council has made this lifesaving inspection optional and not mandatory. The previous ordinance had stated that each and every rental property owner must schedule an inspection of their rental units with a city inspector, and pay a $25.00 fee for this inspection. This change, which has been voted by our City Council, is not only a minimal change of vocabulary used in the ordinance as it may be perceived, but it has now increased the potential harm for our landlords, future and current residents, and our Public Safety officers. The previous wording of the ordinance had optimal safety protocols for our city. Every unit that was used as a rental property in the City of Everett would previously undergo an extensive inspection to ensure the safety, cleanliness, and legality.
After these inspections, the landlord would be given a Certificate of Habitability, which would not only guarantee the safety of their renters, but would also protect the landlord’s property from potential damage or accusations of neglect. Previously, when this ordinance was put into effect with the mandated inspections, it had many great safety benefits that were proven to be happening in our city. A confirmation of this was that the City of Everett had a decrease of requests for property inspections from tenants that had felt their rental unit was unsafe. The nominal $25.00 fee provided homeowners with a peace of mind that their investment in the City of Everett is safe. The mandated inspection also provided renters with the security of knowing that their potential living space is safe and legal. As your Fire Chief, I understand the importance of such an imperative ordinance remaining mandatory. It creates a safer city for everyone, which is my top priority.
On July 13th of this year, we, the Everett Fire Department, had two of our members injured while attempting to rescue a woman from a house fire on Morris St. The woman was alerted of the fire from working smoke detectors on the second floor, and had evacuated to the roof. A previous occupancy inspection, done in result of this mandatory ordinance of this property, identified the absence of working smoke detectors and was rectified by the homeowner. If this inspection was optional at the time, there may have been chance that the occupants would not have known about the fire and would have put more lives at risk. This ordinance directly impacts the safety of my department, your firefighters, immensely. With the change of wording, again decided by our City Council, jeopardizes more than just a $25.00 fee.
During the council meeting, I, your Fire Chief, the ISD Director James Soper, and the Board of Health Director Elaine Silva were all present and planned on speaking and educating the council of the importance of keeping this ordinance mandatory. Every single day, our departments work diligently and tirelessly, with our boots on the ground, to ensure the safety of our community. Regardless of our presence, experience, and most importantly knowledge of this matter, our City Council did not allow us to speak on the motion. The City Council has made an erratic decision to change this lifesaving ordinance to be optional and therefore results in putting many lives at risk. I will not stand with this decision made by our City Council.
Chief Anthony Carli