Pasadena is making it easier to sell your home by backing off of inspection requirement

Realtors are rejoicing, but Mayor Tornek is concerned about an uptick in unlawful additions.

By CHRIS LINDAHL | | Pasadena Star-News

Pasadena City Hall

Pasadena plans to launch on April 1 a relaxed set of rules imposed on home sales, a move real estate agents say will make the process of selling in the City of Roses a little less stressful on homeowners.

For decades residential property owners have been required to schedule a city inspection before they can close a sale — on top of the private inspections and disclosure forms now in place for most sales. The extra inspection won’t be required anymore for many sales beginning April 1, when property owners will be able to fill out a survey online or in person certifying their homes are free of fire hazards or off-the-books additions.

The reduced red tape eases the burden on home buyers and sellers and eliminates redundancy while still ensuring the city is aware of any code compliance violations, according to Lisa Diaz, president of the Pasadena-Foothills Association of Realtors.

“It would delay an entire real estate process over things that were already covered by other means,” she said in an interview.

Indeed, the vast majority of violations staff catch in their approximately 1,800 annual pre-sale inspections do not concern life safety, but are rather such items as unpermitted window or water-heater replacements, David Reyes, planning and community development director, said when the City Council approved the change in January.

Mayor Terry Tornek was the lone dissenter — he’s concerned the city’s relaxation of rules will signal to property owners that they can get away with illegal modifications.

The self-certification survey will detect whether the property is more than 10 percent over the square footage recorded by the county assessor’s office — a sign that an addition was built without a permit — and whether there’s a self-closing door between the garage and living area and sufficient fire- and carbon monoxide-detectors installed, among other alterations.

In those instances, a city inspection would be required but one less stringent than under the old program — inspectors will only be on the lookout for life-safety issues and unpermitted additions. Properties with open code-compliance violations must also undergo an inspection.

A narrowing down of inspection criteria solves a problem inherent under the old system in which different inspectors would look for different things. For example, a home might have passed with flying colors under one inspection, but when the next owner goes to sell it several years later without making any changes, another inspector might find violations overlooked during the first inspection — sometimes for something as small as window replacements, Diaz said.

In fact, the state auditor in 2016 said that the city needed to strengthen several areas of its inspection program, including consistency and follow-through.

“There were just so many hurdles to overcome,” Diaz said.

Self-certification will cost about $28 — about $123 cheaper than an inspection, according to Israel Del Toro, the city’s code enforcement chief.

How common are they?

City-required inspections are uncommon in California: 16 out of 88 cities in Los Angeles County require such an inspection, according to Del Toro. Realtors say Pasadena’s old requirements are among the most stringent.

Pasadena’s program began in 1973 as a means to improve the poor conditions of the city’s housing stock. A lot has changed since then, including improvements in that stock and a state law that requires private inspections, according to Del Toro.

With fewer pre-sale inspections, the city will shift staff resources to its unchanged rental-unit inspection program that requires some 22,000 multifamily buildings be inspected once every four years regardless of tenant or owner turnover.

‘Open season’

Since their inception. the mandated pre-sale inspections have attracted staunch criticism, including claims they’re unconstitutional. The state Court of Appeals in 1975 affirmed the program’s legality because it does not technically require a search without the owner’s consent or a warrant.

Diaz and other Realtors say they’d prefer the program be eliminated all together, but the real estate association president said she’s happy the city worked with agents to craft a compromise.

Tornek, however, remained concerned. He said that the city could have effectively responded to the audit findings by doing a better job enforcing the existing ordinance.

“Despite assurances by staff, I think this is a declaration of open season on unpermitted additions in Pasadena,” he said. “I foresee public safety issues not being caught. I think this is fraught and a mistake.”

El Monte in 2007 implemented city-run pre-sale inspections after seeing a rise in unpermitted additions and garage conversions increase. Homeowners were often adding extra space off the books as a way to fit multiple families in a single-family home in response to rising housing costs.

Jason Lee