Don't Let Inspectors Deduct Points for Five Common Site Conditions
Inspectors sometimes hit sites with inspection violations (what HUD calls “defects” or “deficiencies”) for conditions that aren’t actually violations or that the inspector shouldn’t have inspected in the first place. This happens because HUD’s inspection standards contained in its Dictionary of Deficiency Definitions aren’t always clear about what parts of a site are subject to inspection and what is and isn’t a violation. So different inspectors may interpret the same standard in different ways.
HUD’s Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) issues periodic bulletins clarifying which conditions are and aren’t violations. REAC’s Compilation Bulletin Rapid 4.0 Version 3 became effective in October 2017. It compiles the information given in previous bulletins into one document. The REAC compilation bulletin provides answers to some of the most common questions received from inspectors in the field and clarifies certain areas of the inspection protocol to further ensure that physical inspections are objective and conducted in accordance with the Uniform Physical Condition Standards (UPCS) and HUD’s inspection protocol.
Knowing which conditions aren’t violations can help you avoid getting cited improperly during inspections. And it can help you challenge an inspector’s findings later if she cites you anyway. Here are five common conditions that inspectors have sometimes mistakenly treated as violations.
Condition #1: Vegetation Intentionally Grown on Walls and Fences
HUD makes clear that inspectors shouldn’t cite owners for intentionally growing vegetation on walls or fences, as long as they maintain the vegetation and it doesn’t “adversely affect the structure or its intended use” [Compilation Bulletin, Property Inspectable Areas (C)(1)]. So if you have trellises, fences, or walls that you want to use for landscaping, you can grow flowers or other vegetation on them without getting hit with a violation as long as they don’t damage those structures.
But this doesn’t mean you can let plants and bushes go wild and untrimmed and not get a violation. If vegetation is so overgrown that it blocks sidewalks or windows, gets into the HVAC system, or clogs gutters, you could still get hit with a violation. And even if vegetation is well maintained, if it starts to damage structures, such as walls or fences, you’ll get cited.
Condition #2: Certification Tag Missing from Fire Hoses
Some sites use a fire hose system as a fire safety measure, rather than individual fire extinguishers. Unlike fire extinguishers, fire hoses don’t need certification tags to show when they were last inspected and serviced, unless state or local law requires it. Some inspectors may look for a certification tag on fire hoses and cite the owner if one wasn’t present.
However, the compilation bulletin states, “The UPCS protocol does not require fire hoses to have inspection tags. Do not record a deficiency for fire hoses with expired or missing tags [Compilation Bulletin, Building Systems (E)(3)].” So inspectors shouldn’t cite owners for fire hoses with expired or missing tags. This is true even if your state or local law requires up-to-date tags on fire hoses.
Condition #3: Damaged or Broken Benches (other than in play areas)
Inspectors can cite you for damaged or broken playground equipment—and HUD has stated that playground equipment includes any benches in play areas. But HUD makes clear in its inspection bulletin that this doesn’t apply to benches that aren’t in a play area [Compilation Bulletin, Property Inspectable Areas (E)(1)].
In fact, benches that aren’t in play areas shouldn’t be inspected at all. So if an inspector starts inspecting benches outside your site’s play area, such as those near building entrances, point out to the inspector that HUD says he’s not supposed to inspect those benches.
It’s important to note that even though inspectors won’t inspect these benches, if they see dangerous conditions in plain view, such as sharp nails or broken edges that could cause injury, they could still hit you with a health and safety violation. You won’t lose inspection points, but you’ll have to fix the benches immediately and certify to HUD within three days that you’ve done so.
Condition #4: Majority of Unit Doors Unpainted or Unvarnished
HUD’s dictionary includes unpainted unit doors as a level 3 (highest level) defect. But some sites have raw wood doors as part of the unit’s decor. Based on HUD’s standards, inspectors could cite owners for not painting or varnishing these types of doors.
HUD has tried to avoid this outcome by stating in its inspection bulletin that inspectors shouldn’t cite owners when a majority of the unit doors are unpainted or unvarnished [Compilation Bulletin, Common Areas (D)(11)]. This leads to a unique situation. Say a unit has seven doors. If only one door is unpainted, HUD says inspectors should cite you with a level 3 violation. But if four or more are unpainted, HUD says they shouldn’t. Regardless, if the majority of unit doors are unpainted or unvarnished, the inspector shouldn’t cite you for a violation.
Condition #5: Washable Smoke, Grease, or Dirt on Walls and Ceilings
Inspectors will cite you for deteriorated paint and water stains on walls and ceilings in units or other areas of your site. But inspectors may apply these violations to walls and ceilings that merely needed better cleaning. For example, inspectors would cite owners for dirty or stained walls that could have been cleaned with a household cleaner.
But HUD’s compilation bulletin makes clear that inspectors shouldn’t cite owners for smoke, grease, or dirt on walls and ceilings that can be washed away [Compilation Bulletin, Common Areas (C)(2); (S)(2)]. To reduce the risk of getting hit with a violation, bring cleaning materials along with you during the inspection. That way, if the inspector finds smoke, grease, or dirt build-up on walls or ceilings, you can show her that this build-up can be washed off.
Although you won’t get cited for excessive grease or dirt build-up on ceilings or walls, HUD still considers the accumulation of grease or dirt on range hoods or exhaust fans to be a level 1 violation if it “threatens the free passage of air.” So make sure residents clean these surfaces before an inspection, and clean any range hoods and exhaust fans on common area stoves.