Carrubba Eyes Home Inspection Requirement

Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4, discusses housing issues during this week’s City Council work session as Regina Brackman, D-Ward 3, looks on. P-J photo by John Whittaker

The City Council’s Housing Committee chairwoman would like to see houses in Jamestown inspected before they are sold.

Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4, discussed the idea during the committee’s meeting this week, seven days after struggling to identify policies the committee wanted to implement to improve substandard housing in parts of the city.

Lisa Schmidtfrerick-Miller of the county’s Healthy Housing Coalition discussed with committee members a rental inspection program in Buffalo paid for with federal stimulus money. The Buffalo rental inspection program is free for now because of stimulus money, but there will eventually be a fee required for those inspections. Carrubba responded that she would like to see a more comprehensive program in Jamestown, though she is willing to examine a pilot program to work out the kinks.

“Since our conversation last week, I’ve been thinking about it and one of my thoughts was perhaps starting a pilot project where we would do something, and I’m not just talking about rental properties,” Carrubba said. “Any home, any property that is sold we would have a requirement that an inspection be done and any code violations would have to be either done by the seller before they sell the home or agreed to by the buyer that they would be done by the time they purchase the property. There are areas that do this, and what it does is prevent the revolving door of buying a property and then citing them over and over again. The cycle never stops if you don’t require that somebody has to take responsibility in dealing with the code violations.”

Carrubba’s proposal would be different than three existing ordinances likely to come to the council for discussion and a vote in July. It could work in much the same way a county-mandated inspection of septic systems in areas near Chautauqua Lake is required before a home in those areas is sold, she said. Crystal Surdyk, city development director, said a pilot program would be a good idea and suggested possibly starting with homes the city has identified as “19-a” properties.

Last year, Mayor Eddie Sundquist, Surdyk and Benjamin Haskins, associate city corporation counsel, joined Carrubba, Brent Sheldon, R-Ward 1, and Regina Brackman, D-Ward 3, to announce the city would use a legal procedure known as Article 19-a through which the city can take ownership of abandoned and vacant houses in the city.

A 2021 survey found 45 zombie houses in the city and 175 to 200 abandoned or vacant properties in the city, with 12 19-a and seven zombie house lawsuits filed. Another 30 homes were identified as potential homes for the city to take ownership of and redevelop.

“Any of the 19-a properties, once we take title to them and we’re looking to get first-time homebuyers into those,” Surdyk said. “That is exactly the intention is we do the inspection pre-sale and any of the work that needs to be done is agreed upon and the purchase has a period of time depending on how extensive it is to bring that property up to code and the standards we have. That’s agreed upon at the time of the sale. We’re trying to utilize that program s a way to create new homebuyers and homeowners.”

Carrubba went a step further, recommending working with some of the city’s housing partner agencies to help first-time homebuyers once they’re in their new home. She said many first-time homebuyers end up selling homes because they use assistance to purchase the property but don’t know enough about maintenance and saving money to pay for repairs when issues arise — leading to code problems down the road.

Using the 19-a properties as a pilot for Carrubba’s proposal sounds promising, Surdyk said a large-scale home inspection program will take more work to develop and eventually implement. Properties purchased during the county tax foreclosure process could also be part of the pilot program.

“That’s something we have control over,” Surdyk said. “I don’t know how what the legal mechamism is, whether that’s a change to the charter or how we go about doing that for every property sold in the city, but in addition to the 19a (properties) are the auction properties.”


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