Cedar Rapids elected officials react to lack of building inspections for structural damage

Published: Jul. 2, 2021 at 5:41 AM CDT
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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - A Cedar Rapids mayoral candidate said she supports a new city ordinance to inspect buildings on a regular basis. While at least one city council member said it’s time to start a conversation if a potential new ordinance is needed.

Our KCRG-TV9 i9 Investigative Team reported on Tuesday many buildings, regardless of their age, in eastern Iowa are not required to have inspections for structural issues. The cities of Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, and Iowa City don’t require inspections looking at the structural integrity of a building once it is past the construction phase. These cities do require inspections of rental properties where people live, like apartments and condos.

Amara Andrews, who is running for Mayor in Cedar Rapids, said buildings need to be inspected to ensure a collapse doesn’t happen in Cedar Rapids.

She said the building code used in 1920 when some of Cedar Rapids’ taller buildings were built is different than building standards in 2021.

“As innovation and technologies change our code changes and so requiring structures to be inspected on a regular basis to ensure they are up to code seems quite logical,” Andrews said. “But right now, the onus is on building owners to do that, and we can’t rely on building owners that buildings stay up to code or some minimum.”

She said structural engineers and licensed craftsmen should perform these inspections. But, Andrews was unsure of some details of a potential new ordinance.

“Either, the city needs to invest in inspections, and that we need to conduct inspections over time,” she said. “Or we need to require building owners to inspect their buildings every few years.”

Dale Todd, who is a city council member for the 3rd district in Cedar Rapids, said conversations with building owners and experts should begin to determine if a new ordinance to inspect buildings regularly is needed.

He said it’s about asking questions to experts while looking at the whole picture before creating a new ordinance.

“Just ask the question, ‘what makes sense?’,” Todd said. “Let’s use some common sense here let’s make sure that we do something that protects the public, that protects the people in these buildings, but also at the same time doesn’t end up being a cumbersome and burdensome thing that we would put in place in particular if there is going to be cost.”

A new ordinance to inspect every building for structural issues could be both expensive and long. Dubuque said it could take about a year to go through exterior inspection reports of every commercial and industrial building in their city. Todd, who is also a developer, also points out structural engineers are expensive. However, it is difficult to determine an exact cost because no ordinance has been proposed yet.

“We don’t do inspections to make money, but, we do inspections to save lives.”

Dale Todd

Todd said he would look at how other communities design their building inspection laws, along with how those communities pay for those programs. But, he said it isn’t fair for taxpayers to pay this cost.

Tiffany O’Donnell, who is also running for mayor in Cedar Rapids, said she would wait to learn more about the topic before supporting a potential new ordinance.

She said she wants to understand the best practices before making a decision.

“I would not advocate for an ordinance today,” O’Donnell said. “What I would strongly advocate for is that the city of Cedar Rapids takes a hard look at the policies and procedures already on the books at building services as it relates to permits and inspections.”

She said she is concerned about a potential new ordinance to create more bureaucracy in city government.

TV9 asked other members of the Cedar Rapids City Council if they believe the city needs an ordinance to inspect older buildings for structural issues. Mayor Brad Hart responded in an email that he sent our question to city’s building services team.

“Our building services department is talented, effective and efficient,” he wrote. “I have complete faith in them.”

Hart also said asking mayoral candidates a question about building inspections makes no sense based on our form of government and the fact that they have not served as an elected official.

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