Take Four Steps When Dealing with “Exigent” Health and Safety Hazards
During an inspection, Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspectors look at specific areas of the site for health and safety hazards. Most of these hazards can cost you points on your inspection score but don't necessarily subject you to other, more serious penalties.
But some health and safety hazards are considered so dangerous that HUD requires you to take steps to correct these hazards immediately and certify within three days that you've done so. HUD calls these types of life-threatening hazards “exigent health and safety hazards” because of the urgent need to correct them in view of the risk of physical injury and death that they pose.
Uncorrected exigent health and safety hazards have serious repercussions for your site. These include possible administrative enforcement, which can lead to suspension and debarment from HUD programs. In addition, these types of hazards expose you to local fines from local and safety authorities. And these hazards can also put you at risk of lawsuits if residents or others are injured by these dangerous conditions. Residents may also withhold rent until you fix the hazards.
We'll tell you what conditions HUD considers to be exigent health and safety hazards requiring immediate action. And we'll tell you what steps to take to correct these conditions and to show HUD that you've done so. To help you do this, we've provided a Model Form: Owner Certification of Corrections, which mirrors the one HUD requires you to send to show you've corrected any exigent health and safety hazards. And we've created a Model Form: Documenting Exigent Health and Safety Hazards Repairs, which you can adapt and send with the certification.
What Conditions Are Exigent Health and Safety Hazards?
During an inspection, REAC inspectors look at eight categories of health and safety hazards: air quality, electrical, elevator, emergency and fire exits, flammable materials, garbage and debris, infestation, and physical hazards. Within these eight categories, there are 13 types of conditions that HUD considers to be exigent (what HUD previously called life-threatening). These are:
- Missing electrical outlets and switches;
- Missing or broken cover plates for electrical outlets or switches;
- Missing circuit breakers on electrical panels or boxes;
- Missing covers for electrical panels or boxes;
- Water leaks on or near electrical equipment;
- Missing or inoperable smoke detectors;
- Missing, damaged, or expired fire extinguishers;
- Blocked or unusable emergency or fire exits;
- Visibly missing components of fire escapes;
- Security bars preventing exit through windows;
- Misaligned flue or ventilation systems on water heaters;
- Misaligned flue or ventilation systems on HVAC systems; and
- Detection of propane, natural, or methane gas.
Four Steps to Take if You Get Cited
If an inspector cites you for an exigent health and safety hazard, take the following four steps:
Step #1: Repair hazard immediately. HUD rules require you to repair all exigent health and safety hazards immediately, if possible, but no later than three business days after the inspection. Once an inspector finishes an inspection, the inspection software summarizes all exigent health and safety hazards into one report, which the inspector will give you in writing (called a Notification of Exigent and Fire Safety Hazards), says REAC inspection expert Jack Smith.
It's important to repair each hazard properly. For instance, if you're cited for open electrical panels, the proper way to repair this type of hazard is to insert a circuit breaker, a fuse, or a blank plastic insert made by the proper panel manufacturer, notes Smith. But some sites have tried to fix this type of hazard in improper ways—for example, by covering the slots with electrical or duct tape or gluing inappropriate material over the slots. If you don't repair the hazard properly, REAC won't consider it corrected, says Smith.
And you must use the right person to make the repair. For example, your maintenance staff can change the battery on a smoke detector. But you may need to hire a trained contractor to repair gas leaks or electrical hazards.
To make sure you repair each hazard properly, go over the exigent health and safety report with the inspector to find out what repairs would put the cited hazard in acceptable condition, suggests Smith. Then determine whether your staff has the expertise to make these repairs or whether you need to hire an outside contractor, he says.
Step #2: Discuss with local HUD office or contract administrator. Once REAC gets your inspection results, it will post any findings of exigent health and safety hazards on the Real Estate Management System (REMS) 48 hours after the inspection, as well as on the REAC Web site. HUD has instructed local HUD offices and contract administrators to check for these results. Then they must call you to confirm that you've gotten the Notification of Exigent and Fire Safety Hazards. They should also ask you if you've corrected the hazards, and will discuss the hazards with you. During the conversation, discuss any problems you're having making repairs. Your local HUD office or contract administrator may decide to refer you to HUD's Enforcement Center for administrative enforcement. By discussing any problems with them beforehand and working out a solution, you may be able to avoid getting referred for enforcement.
Step #3: Document repairs. REAC requires you to document in writing your repairs of exigent health and safety hazards. Use a repair report like our Model Report. This report must be attached to your certification, as Step #4 explains. At the top of your report, give basic information about the site and the inspection. Below this information, your report should have columns to record the following:
> Item number. Keep track of the number of exigent hazards cited. It's a good idea to list the hazards in the same order they were listed on the notification. For instance, if you were cited for three exigent health and safety hazards, list them on the report in the same order they're listed on the notification, and number them 1, 2, and 3, so there's no confusion about which hazards you corrected.
> Location of hazard. For each item, state where the inspector found the hazard. Give the building and unit number, if applicable, and specify the area, such as “basement storage area,” “second-floor hallway,” or “rear exit door.”
> Type of hazard. State the hazard you were cited for—for instance, blocked fire exit or open electrical panels.
> How you or staff repaired the hazard. Describe what action you, your maintenance staff, or, if necessary, a hired contractor took to repair the hazard, such as replacing a missing fire extinguisher or unblocking fire exits.
> Date and time of repair. Record the date and time you or your staff repaired the hazard, to show you made the repairs right away. Even though REAC doesn't require you to submit physical documentation, it's a good idea to take a photograph of the repaired area, with a date and time stamp if possible, in case you need proof later that you've made the repairs.
Step #4: Send or fax certification to local HUD office or contract administrator within three days. Send or fax a signed certification, like our Model Certification, on the owner's letterhead within three business days of the REAC inspection. Our certification contains standard language that HUD requires you to use, so make sure your certification uses exactly the same words as ours. When preparing your certification, fill in the blanks in our Model Certification with the appropriate information about your site. Only the owner or its “duly authorized representative” can sign the certification, so have the owner sign it, if possible. If you sign the certification as managing agent on behalf of the owner, be sure to describe your relationship to the owner. Finally, attach a completed repair report as referred to in the second numbered paragraph.
Jack T. Smith: Director of Training, The Inspection Group, 6656 Lower Lake Dr., Westerville, OH 43082; www.theinspectiongroup.com.