Prepare for HUD's New Approach to Physical Inspections
REAC inspections resume June 1 with more advance notice and safety protocols.
On April 23, HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge announced that HUD will substantially increase housing inspections for public housing and multifamily housing beginning on June 1. She noted that HUD’s inspections are important for identifying unsafe conditions and supporting HUD’s work with housing providers to mitigate them. It has been over a year since HUD suspended most in-person housing inspections by the Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
In consultation with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), HUD has developed protocols guiding the inspection process. “The last year has shown just how important housing is to our health and safety,” said Secretary Fudge. “More than a year since the pandemic began and with every person over the age of 16 now being eligible for a free COVID-19 vaccination, we must take steps to ensure the whole health and well-being of the households we serve—including the conditions and quality of housing. We look forward to working with residents to ensure safe and successful inspections.”
We’ll go over the operational changes and additional safety protocols HUD will implement as REAC ramps up inspections and works through the inspection backlog that amassed since suspending inspections more than a year ago. It’s important to note that as REAC inspections restart, the inspections process is being changed only in terms of scheduling and COVID safety procedures. The scoring and appeals process will be the same.
How HUD Will Select Sites for Inspection
Sites that have reduced or deferred maintenance practices during the last year due to the pandemic should start preparing for REAC inspections. The substantial increase in the number of physical inspections across HUD’s multifamily portfolio means that your site may be picked at any moment.
HUD intends to prioritize and select public housing and multifamily sites for inspection based on a number of factors. According to REAC’s updated FAQs for inspections, where your site ranks on HUD’s backlog of inspections will be determined by:
- The insured/non-insured status of your site;
- The time elapsed since the previous inspection;
- Risk indicators;
- Field office inquiries;
- The ideal future inspection date;
- PHA-requested inspections; and
- Historic physical inspection scores.
In an April 29 memo issued to PHAs and multifamily owners, REAC’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary Ashley Sheriff said “high priority” site owners who received the memo can expect to have at least one site inspected by Dec. 31, 2021. For the inspections, HUD will use both its Uniform Physical Condition Standard (UPCS) and National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate (NSPIRE) standards for high-priority sites.
NSPIRE. For these inspections, HUD won’t be issuing a score of record. REAC will inspect multifamily sites that have volunteered for the NSPIRE demonstration. In an effort to change the 20-year-old REAC physical inspection system to better reflect the physical condition of privately owned HUD-subsidized housing, in 2019, HUD sought volunteers to adopt HUD’s model and conduct field testing of the new scoring and standards. HUD says it will also use NSPIRE’s “life-threatening deficiencies” standards at high-priority public housing sites, even if the PHA didn’t volunteer to participate in NSPIRE. (See our Model Checklist: NSPIRE Life-Threatening Deficiency Standards.)
UPCS. These inspections will be conducted for high-priority multifamily sites and for public housing where the inspection was requested for Public Housing Assessment System (PHAS) purposes. Under the UPCS inspection standard, the owner must mitigate all exigent health and safety (EHS) items immediately, and the owner must file a written report with the applicable Multifamily Hub Director within three business days of the date of the inspection, which is the date the owner was provided with the EHS notice. The report filed by the owner must provide a certification and reasonable evidence that the EHS items have been resolved. (See our Model Checklist: UPCS Exigent Health & Safety Deficiencies.)
Temporarily Increased Advance Notice
In 2019, HUD issued a notice limiting the notice time for REAC inspection to not more than 14 days. At the time, the scheduling policy change was made to address “just-in-time” repairs. HUD felt that too much advance notice allowed owners to undertake cosmetic just-in-time repairs to their sites rather than adopting sound year-round maintenance practices.
HUD’s latest communications state that the “14-Day Notice” rule is now being modified temporarily. But HUD hasn’t indicated an end date for the modification. HUD says the change is being made to ensure the safety of the inspectors, residents, and property staff.
HUD REAC will notify the property that an inspection is upcoming at least 28 days before the inspection. Then, the REAC inspector will call again and provide written notice to a PHA or owner to schedule an inspection 14 days ahead of an inspection. The inspector will follow up with the property two days before an inspection to re-confirm the inspection and ensure nothing has changed.
HUD issued an Inspector Notice on April 27 updating its guidance for both regular UPSC and NSPIRE demonstration inspections during the pandemic. Based on CDC recommendations, the notice details the protocol for inspectors before and during inspections.
Pre-inspection. During the 28-day, 14-day, and two-day calls, the inspector will ask whether there are any known COVID-19 cases on-site. Known COVID-19 cases will be reported to REAC’s technical assistance center by the inspector. And on inspection day, if a unit in the inspection sample has a known COVID-19 case, this unit will be replaced with an alternate unit for inspection. Regardless of the presence of positive cases, REAC inspectors are required to inspect properties that are deemed as “priority inspections” by HUD.
In addition, REAC isn’t requiring inspectors to be fully vaccinated. But inspectors will follow CDC recommendations on domestic travel during COVID-19, which currently requires testing before and after travel, as well as self-quarantining. Unvaccinated inspectors must be tested for COVID-19 before their first inspection and every 30-days thereafter. For vaccinated inspectors, the testing requirement is waived (before and after travel, as well as before conducting physical inspections).
If required by the site, all REAC inspectors (regardless of vaccination status) will submit to the property’s screening criteria, including temperature checks.
During inspection. Inspectors are required to wear personal protective equipment during all phases of the inspection, even if local requirements don’t require masks and gloves. For property inspections with an elderly population, the inspector is also required to wear a face shield.
Before entering each unit, the inspector must clean inspection tools, including measuring devices, flashlights, and collection devices. Gloves should also be exchanged between units. And during the inspection process, the inspector should avoid physical contact with the residents and staff (including handshakes), and will keep conversation to a minimum to reduce time spent onsite. It’s also encouraged that the property open windows for ventilation.
The inspector should maintain distance and be accompanied by only one site representative when in unit. If residents choose to stay and social distances can’t be maintained, the inspector must not enter the unit or must leave the unit. The inspector will then mark the unit as “uninspectable” and go to an alternate unit.
Resident safety is an important concern for HUD, and the Deputy Assistant Sheriff’s memo discussed the rights of residents during the restart of inspections. She states, “It is critical to note that residents may refuse inspection of their homes, in which case the HUD inspector will select an alternate home to inspect.”
HUD has provided a flyer for residents outlining their rights to clarify the COVID-19 inspection process. Currently, the flyer is available only in English but will be made available in other languages by HUD. It can be found at www.hud.gov/sites/dfiles/PIH/documents/pih_inspection_resumption_flyer.pdf.
Sites should post this document and include it with any notice of an inspection. Here are the resident rights listed in the flyer:
- Residents should communicate any health-related concerns, and the inspector will select an alternate unit to inspect.
- Residents have the choice to be present. If residents are not home and the unit is randomly selected, the inspection will move forward with the unit inspection.
- Residents who are home may elect to leave or stay in the unit during the inspection.
- The inspector and property representative will practice safe distancing and wear personal protective equipment (PPE) consistent with detailed HUD safety protocols informed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) most recent guidance.