Aug. 30 2010 12:00 AM

Lansing finds itself unable to enforce building codes in manufactured rental homes

A report by the Public Safety Committee will be distributed at tonight’s Lansing City Council meeting that concludes the city is unable to perform certain building code inspections on mobile-home rental property required by state legislation passed in January.

While city building code officers can perform general inspections, they are unable to cite mobile-home rentals for serious issues like electrical, mechanical or plumbing violations the same way they can for single-family houses or apartments.

Chris Segerlind, manager of building safety and code compliance for the city, has some concerns about the ability of her staff to perform these functions. One is that city inspectors are not trained to inspect to the standards required in the state Mobile Home Act and could not cite for non-compliance. A second is that it would cost extra to hire part-time specialized inspectors or for potentially out-of-state training for current inspectors.

Segerlind expressed these concerns in an Aug. 17 e-mail to At-Large Councilwoman Carol Wood, who chairs the Public Safety Committee.

Until last January, the Michigan Manufactured Housing Commission and the former Department of Environmental Quality were responsible for the safety inspections. The Housing Commission inspected the infrastructure of the whole mobile home community (traffic signs, roads and general operations), while the DEQ would look at more specific issues, like live wires, gas leaks or water contamination.

In January, after roughly two years of talks to hand over this control to municipalities, Gov. Jennifer Granholm signed into law the ability for local governments to perform these inspections.

“It was my understanding that there were many communities that wanted this authority,” Kevin DeGroat, a regulation specialist with the state Department of Energy, Labor and Economic Growth, said. Though DeGroat has heard positive feedback from cities throughout Michigan for the newfound power to enforce these regulations, he said Lansing’s situation is understandable.

“A municipality without resources, personnel or funding to conduct inspections — there could be problems,” he said.

Lansing officials say that is exactly the case. In late February, the Public Safety Committee started work on an ordinance that would allow city building inspectors to perform these duties. After months of exchanges with the city Code Compliance Office — the branch who would do the inspections — the committee made three conclusions: Lansing cannot draft an ordinance to inspect the safety of manufactured rental homes; the state passed this responsibility on to municipalities without giving them enforcement tools; and city officials need to meet with the state Manufactured Housing Commission to devise a solution.

The committee wrote that due to a “loophole” in the state Mobile Home Act, Lansing renters in mobile homes are not protected under the Lansing Housing and Premises code. The report adds that this is “unacceptable,” as nationwide statistics show mobile home renters are more susceptible to fires due to electrical malfunctions than other one- or two-family residences.

Many of these fires are caused by “heating and electrical systems malfunctions and improper storage of combustibles. Many of these are (the) same issues that today Lansing cannot inspect for,” the report states.