Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Building Codes And Why They Are Needed This Week At REI

This week at REI our guest speaker will be Roanoke City Building Commissioner, Neil Holland. Neil will be talking about building codes and the reasons we need them. Not to be confused with property maintenance code which is a completely different department. 

Neil is in the permit office. I would say overall that the building inspectors under Neil are pretty easy to work with and do a great job at guiding you in the right direction when you have issues you are trying to get resolved. Unlike the code enforcement department, these building inspectors are highly qualified and fully understand the building codes which makes them easy to work with. His staff doesn’t seem to have the power trip complex that some of the code enforcers have. Which leads to a much more pleasurable experience when working with the city to make modifications to a property. 

The primary complaints I hear from members pertaining to the Building and Planning department are that they put too many unnecessary roadblocks in the way, preventing businesses from efficiently growing their company. Which leads to economic growth, jobs, higher taxes for the city, etc. 

I asked Susan Lower, Director of Real Estate Valuation, some questions pertaining to the GIS and how it misleads people in some areas. Some of these things that are misleading can literally bankrupt a person who is just getting started out. Susan forwarded the questions to Neil Holland and Ian Shaw as it appears that they are in charge of these things. Neither of them replied.  If you would like to see the details of these GIS issues, see the emails below. 

See ya at the meeting…

Hi Susan,

Andy was saying that you had some questions pertaining to anything bad related to the new eTrakit system. As you know I have always been real happy with the city GIS. You do a real good job with it and it’s miles beyond most towns. Roanoke County is playing catchup. There are some irritations with the new system though that could be resolved. One thing is it should connect directly with the eTrakit system rather than make you hit the link and retype in the house address. I am computer savvy but many as you know aren’t. I can imagine them getting to that page and then trying to figure out where they go for the information they were so used to getting. No reason not to connect it directly to Code Enforcement and make it so the address transfers as well.

Enough with the nit picking though and lets get to the larger issues. The city has been attacking people that have open violations. They say for compliance with something they are trying to gain compliance with they have to have every single violation in closed status. Nothing open ended. They will years later go after you saying that this or that was not closed. But you know for a fact that it was closed as you met the inspector out there and he or she said it’s done. They just forgot to go back later and mark it as closed. Then they forget a few years later that they ever had that meeting with you. 

This system does not clearly show if something is open or closed.  Sometimes you will see a date in the closed tab and sometimes you won’t. Sometimes there is something in the compliance tab and sometimes there isn’t. Sometimes there is nothing in either of them even though the issue is closed. Sometimes there is a rental certificate on the house but it is not listed on there as having one. My suggestion is that it should be made so each column HAS to be filled out by the person inputting the data. And if it’s not filled out than it is not complete. I would like to see every open violation highlighted or some real easy way to tell if it is an open problem or closed. I buy junker houses and invest my money in the city to fix it up and increase tax values. I like to know what I’m walking into without big surprises. 

Talk about a mega surprise. I also don’t like that the city will put that a property is a multifamily property on this GIS and then turn around and tell people later that it’s not and we should have checked with them to determine if it was or wasn’t. That’s seriously messed up and I think you know why as the expert in real estate valuation. We buy property based on the income it produces. It’s not worth anywhere near what we paid if it all of a sudden is required to be converted to a single family. Not only the cost of conversion so but also the lost income. This type of thing leads a lot of newbie people who buy at the city tax sale straight into bankruptcy. Yes, The city bankrupts the person. They put all of the little amount of money they have into buying a house and think they are going to make X number of dollars in rent so they will be able to afford the investment. They check the GIS and it confirms that it is officially a multifamily house. Then BAM, they get slammed when they try to do the right thing and go down to get a permit. The evil people there tell them they have to convert it to a single family house in order to get the permit. Can you only imagine the taste someone gets in their mouth for the city when that happens to them. Months later the house still sits there vacant, boarded up and unable to be fixed as they don’t have the money to convert it to a single and the house is so big it doesn’t make since to do so in the first place. I’ve found that typically the tax assessed value will match what you typically will see for a multi as well. So there is literally no indication even for the experienced investor. The simple fact that it says the word multifamily on there I’ve found to mean absolutely nothing. That causes bankruptcy for innocent people who are just starting out investing their money in the city. So it’s very bad and urgent that it’s changed. 

Also I’ll look at properties now and there are page after page of violations since there are so few per page. My work has now more than tripled as there is not enough information on that first line and I have to literally open each and every violation and see what it’s all about and if it’s closed or not. It’s not even organized by date so there is no way to even look at the most recent date assuming that the other older issues have been resolved. Or if it was a rental certificate or not. I have to see if a place has a valid certificate or not. Or if it ever has had one. Some of that information in the second page is relevant. So a property has 6 pages of notices. I have to look at each and every violation and open them all up. Takes an unnecessarily long time. Didn’t take all of that work with the first system. 

So the things we would like for you to talk about at a meeting are the new functionalities of this system you have. It looks like it does a lot more and I would like to know all of the ways we can utilize the new system to be efficient, etc. What this contractor stuff is all about. About getting permits right there on the system. What is projects? Scheduling inspections through it. What is the purpose of the properties search on there. I put my properties in there and nothing comes up. Maybe that is work in progress. 

Good stuff! Just have some suggestions for refining. 

Best regards,


Hey Dallas and Happy New Year!

Thank you for your nice comments on our GIS. We do try to have correct Real Estate information and current maps available to you for view each day. Our team works hard to load our system daily so on the next day the new data entered is live in GIS.

And for your comments on the Trakit system (our new permitting system), I honestly do not know enough about this system to help you and your group. Our team is still in training on this system and we learn something new on this each day. We still print a paper copy of a new permit to take to the field for review. I feel like you need to invite Neil Holland and Ian Shaw or somone from the permiting department to speak to your group to address the questions you have listed below. We have a "read only" version of this system and I am simply NOT qualified to speak on this.  

Andy had asked me to address your group with the real estate presentation we did for City Council on Monday. This presentation is more about the percentage of increase in the real estate assessments. And since you have several new members in your group he also asked me to speak about navigating in GIS. I will bring Tracey Leet our GIS coordinator to help facilitate using the tools in GIS.  

I am copying Neil and Ian on this email, so they are aware of your concerns in Trakit. I look forward to speaking with your group regarding GIS and our Annual Reassessment Presentation.
Best Regards,

Susan S. Lower, SRA
Director of Real Estate Valuation


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