Responding to complaints voiced by the owner of Hartley’s Climate Control at the May 6 Rolla City Council meeting, city codes administrator Steve Flowers told the council at a workshop Monday night at The Centre building permits and inspections assure the safety of Rolla residents.
Even if the permit is only for a water heater, Flowers said.
“I think it is very important that we do these inspections,” Flowers said after describing the ways that installation of electrical, natural gas and propane-powered water heaters differ and what can go wrong if they aren’t installed properly.
The biggest problem, both Flowers and City Administrator John Butz said, is that most water heaters are put in with no building permits and no inspections. Even John Hartley, the businessman who aired his complaints to the council, received only eight such permits in the last 30 months, Butz said.
Council members noted that the businessman’s main complaint was the amount of time it took to get a permit. Hartley said it took at least 30-40 minutes; he said that owning a company like his that does numerous jobs each day in Rolla would require him to spend much of the day at Rolla City Hall obtaining permits.
Hartley said he often would rather pay the fine for not having a permit than spending so much time obtaining one.
Flowers said, “Everybody’s busy and in a hurry,” but he added that he believes the office staff is “reasonably fast” in getting out the building permits.
The No. 1 reason for requiring the permit is to make sure the right address is covered. He told of instances in other cities where building demolitions were conducted on wrong houses. Building permits prevent that from happening, he said.
Flowers also said building permits are not required on service calls unless major replacements or changes are being made.
Councilman Don Morris asked him what happens when water heaters or other work must be done on a Saturday.
Flowers said the building codes allow for emergency work done after hours or on weekends be done without a permit as long as the permit is sought the next business day. He said he knew of no penalty being assessed for work that was truly an emergency that occurred after hours or on a weekend.
Flowers said in response to a question from Councilwoman Sue Eudaly that he and other inspectors do not “drive around looking” for contractors they can catch. They don’t have time to do that, he said.
They respond to complaints, he said, and “the majority of calls, they’re tattling on one another,” he said, explaining that a contractor who doesn’t get a job will watch what another contractor does and report any infractions to the code enforcement office.
Page 2 of 2 - Councilman Kelly Long asked why contractors rather than homeowners are required to obtain the building permits or pay the penalty if one is not obtained.
“I’m surprised it’s not the responsibility of the homeowner,” Long said.
Long said most homeowners don’t know the permits are required but contractors do.
Council consensus seemed to be that homeowners need to be educated about the building permit requirements. Mayor Bill Jenks suggested the city newsletter should include that information.