Inspections on rental properties to increase

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002

[07/10/02]Rental properties in Vicksburg will have more inspections by building officials under new property maintenance codes.

Under the policy that became effective this month, any structure that has had utilities turned off for at least 15 days has to be inspected before being occupied. Victor Gray-Lewis, administrator of the city’s building inspection department, said the policy will help improve the conditions of properties in Vicksburg because if city habitability standards aren’t met, utilities won’t be connected for a new tenant.

“A lot of things were falling through the cracks and this is sort of an umbrella to catch all of these,” Gray-Lewis said.

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Property owner Jo Pratt said she supports the changes. Pratt owns about 60 rental properties in the city.

“I think it’s excellent. They should have done this a long time ago,” Pratt said.

She said that because her properties are kept up to code, she has no problems with the city inspecting the homes and apartments between tenants. She said the new policy will ultimately help eliminate a lot of dilapidated properties owned by less vigilant landlords.

“They will let people live in anything and don’t make the tenants keep up the property,” Pratt said.

Along with the policy requiring inspections of unused properties, the city also adopted the International Property Maintenance Code last month to replace the Standard Housing Code of 1997.

Gray-Lewis said the new codes do not change the standards for residential structures, but include commercial and industrial properties. He said that the advantage in the new code is that all buildings will be held to the same standard regardless of use.

“They’re all the same. We’re going to treat them equally,” Gray-Lewis said.

Mayor Laurence Leyens, who pledged to clean up Vicksburg during last year’s campaign, said the new policy and codes will make it harder for property owners to let property fall into disrepair.

The International Property Maintenance Code was created out of different codes used throughout the nation. Gray-Lewis said that with the new codes, standards in Vicksburg will be the same as in the rest of the country.

He also said there are few differences between the new code and the older version, but it does include more specific requirements for businesses such as having hot water in bathrooms, heating, proper ventilation and lighting.

Those requirements are included in state and federal laws concerning public places and in Vicksburg’s building codes, but because it was not a part of the maintenance codes, building officials had little power to enforce those standards.

For example, under the old codes, if a building inspector noted a problem in a building’s fire alarm, the inspector would have to contact the fire department to take action. Under the new codes, the inspector can take action and require the alarm be repaired.

“Ultimately it’s going to improve the status of buildings in Vicksburg,” Gray-Lewis said.