As Monroe County moves towards reopening the economy, many Bloomington area residents have more to consider than whether they will leave the house.
With over 60 percent of Bloomington residents classified as renters, many people are concerned about who they will allow into their home, and how much say they have in the matter.
Our City Limits series received multiple questions about rental companies and landlords sending maintenance employees for inspections and whether renters have to let them in.
Rental properties undergo inspections from the city’s Housing and Neighborhood Development Department every three to five years, evaluating whether the property is up to code. The frequency of inspections depends on a few things, including the property manager’s track record with city guidelines.
The longer a manager has a property and follows city guidelines accurately, the longer the permit, HAND Program Manager John Hewett says.
Every rental unit must have a rental occupancy permit issued by the city stating how many people can legally inhabit the space.
By law, tenants must be given reasonable notice before a house showing, inspection, or any non-emergency maintenance is done. According to Hewett, that time is usually interpretted to be be 24 hours.
In mid-March, HAND halted all inspections in homes that were currently occupied, according to Hewett. But inspections started again last week, Hewett says, and the department is catching up on inspections postponed in March.
“Our procedure for doing those inspections right now is if the tenant has any discomfort with someone coming in, we will reschedule,” he says. “And if there are people that have tested positive or believe that they may be ill, the inspectors are not to go in and do an inspection.”
The city will not do an inspection if tenants or the landlord are not present, Hewett adds.
All HAND inspectors are to wear masks and gloves while in someone’s dwelling, Hewett says. They’ll also have spare supplies for any residents who don’t have protective equipment and want to wear it while an inspection is taking place.
He says during recent inspections, some residents have opted to do the physical work like turning on water faucets and checking light switches themselves to minimize how much contact inspectors make with the space.
For tenants receiving assistance under the Bloomington Housing Authority, two types of inspections take place on a dwelling.
Daniel Harmon is the Housing Choice Voucher program manager. He says prior to BHA beginning any subsidy on a home for a family, the US Housing and Urban Development Department requires the home to undergo an initial inspection.
BHA is still performing initial inspections of homes, as long as the home is vacant at the time of inspection.
The other type of inspection is a renewal inspection, he says. BHA goes to a home under the voucher program at least every two years to make sure the home is still up to HUD’s Housing Quality Standards.
Because of the pandemic, BHA is keeping track of which homes are due for an inspection.
“Rather than conducting a physical inspection for the units that are due, we are conducting a teleconference call with the assisted tenant to inquire about any potential deficiencies in the assisted unit,” Harmon says.
Assisted tenants are encouraged to take pictures of any deficiencies in the home and email them to the inspector, Harmon says. BHA is also doing inspections over Skype sessions when possible.
Then BHA notifies the landlord of any deficiencies.
Non-life-threatening deficiencies must be corrected within 30 days. Any life-threatening deficiencies are required to be corrected within 24 hours.
Both Hewett and Harmon say it is between a tenant and landlord whether home showings and maintenance take place during the pandemic.
Hewett says the city only has jurisdiction over whether a rental property is up to code, not over lease agreements-so the city can’t dictate if a property manager is allowed to do repairs or conduct showing on homes right now.
Harmon says BHA has a contract with the tenant they help subsidize and the landlord, but do not have authority over the lease between those two parties.
Mark Figg, president of the Monroe County Apartment Association, says if residents feel uncomfortable with any work done on the house or showings taking place, they should communicate those worries to their landlord or property manager.
At the start of the pandemic, most landlords were only responding to emergency work that needed done.
Figg says many management companies, his Kirkwood Management included, are still following this procedure. For any emergency work, it’s preferred that tenants leave the residence while the work is being done.
Whether someone can or can’t refuse to let a maintenance worker come into their home depends on their lease agreement, Figg says. But most landlords under the Monroe County Apartment Association would prefer to minimize contact between tenants and employees if possible.
“If you look at a smoke detector battery being changed, that is something fairly straightforward to do and you want to have that work,” he says.
If you feel uncomfortable having someone come into your home to change a battery, landlords will have someone talk you through how to perform the task yourself, Figg says.
Figg says landlords are within their rights to do home showings with prospective tenants for a coming rent cycle, though not all leases are the same and tenants should check before assuming this applies to them. Figg recommends showing a property to prospective tenants over video.
“Landlords have to be able to show the home,” he says. “If you were looking to rent right now, you’d want to see the place first.”
If a showing does take place in person, Figg says it may be best to have current tenants vacate the home during that time and make sure everyone wears personal protection equipment.