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California State Auditor Report Number : 2015-134

Residential Building Records
The Cities of San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena Need to Strengthen the Implementation of Their Resale Record Program

Audit Results

The Three Cities Are Not Fully Complying With Their Respective Ordinances and Policies for the Residential Building Record Programs

The three cities we reviewed—San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena—do not fully comply with all requirements in their ordinances and policies and procedures pertaining to their residential building record (resale record) programs. For example, none of these cities are monitoring whether individuals who own properties are receiving inspections and obtaining resale record reports (reports) before transferring properties to new owners. In addition, San Rafael and Novato require that the buyer provide written acknowledgement indicating receipt of the report and provide it to the seller, but neither city actively monitors the collection of these documents. Moreover, the cities are lacking key documents for some properties we reviewed that would demonstrate they are complying with their programs’ ordinances and policies and procedures.

The Cities Are Not Ensuring That Property Owners Are Complying With Applicable Ordinance Requirements

Each city we reviewed requires property owners to obtain documents from the city before the transfer of a property; these documents demonstrate the extent to which the city has identified restrictions on use and existing health and safety violations. The ordinances for Novato and San Rafael require that a property owner obtain an inspection of the property by the city and that the city issue a report. Pasadena’s ordinance requires that a property owner obtain a city inspection of the property and that the city issue a Certificate of Inspection (inspection certificate) before the property’s change in occupancy. If Pasadena identifies violations during the inspection, it issues a report to the owner identifying the required corrections. Unlike San Rafael and Novato, Pasadena does not require that the buyer receive a copy of the report; however, it does require property owners to resolve any deficiencies identified during an inspection before the sale or exchange of the property. The inspection certificate provides additional information that the property complies with health and safety codes, the California Building Standards Code (code), and other city ordinances.

None of the cities we reviewed have procedures in place or monitor the identification of properties that are sold or exchanged. According to the cities, their priority is conducting inspections and identifying violations, and the owners are responsible for requesting the resale record inspection. Novato’s supervising code enforcement officer (code officer), who manages the resale record program, stated that limitations in staff levels do not allow Novato to monitor which properties are being sold. According to San Rafael’s community development director, local realtors are familiar with the resale record program and he was unaware of any property being sold or transferred without a resale record report. Similarly, according to its building official, Pasadena relies on realtors and escrow companies to assist property owners in complying with the resale record program because the escrow companies must ensure that owners obtain inspection certificates before the sale.

Because each city requires that property owners obtain certain documents before a sale or exchange of their property, we believe the cities should monitor compliance with their local laws and work with applicable stakeholders, such as realtors, to obtain greater compliance. Although the cities have relied on property owners to comply with these ordinances, we believe the cities could also obtain and review information from their county assessors to be aware of properties that are sold or transferred. Pasadena’s building official stated that the city receives updates to its databases from the assessor several times a year of properties that have transferred, but it has not used the information to ensure compliance with its local ordinance requiring resale record inspections. Obtaining and reviewing this information will assist the cities to independently monitor the effectiveness of their programs and increase compliance.

In addition, we noted that Pasadena’s database was missing several inspection certificates. According to the city’s ordinance, the property cannot be sold, exchanged, leased, or rented until the city issues an inspection certificate. Without an inspection certificate, the city lacks assurance that the property is in compliance with the city’s ordinances related to the health and safety of its residents. Specifically, the city’s database was missing 10 of the 17 inspection certificates for inspections we reviewed that had application dates from July 2014 through October 2015. In response to our questions regarding the missing documents, the city was subsequently able to provide the inspection certificates, although four of the 10 documents were unsigned. According to the inspection certificate form, the inspection certificate is not official without a signature by a city representative. When we questioned the city about these four  certificates, the city’s building official surmised that the unsigned certificates resulted from inspector error.

Furthermore, San Rafael and Novato were unable to demonstrate in certain instances that buyers were aware of health and safety violations that existed at their new properties, as their respective ordinances require. These cities’ ordinances require the seller to deliver a copy of the resale record report to the potential buyer before the sale or exchange of the property. Both cities also require that the buyer sign a homeowner’s card indicating receipt of the report and then provide it to the seller, who submits the receipt to the city. However, neither city actively monitors the receipt of these cards. Out of the 20 properties we tested for each city, we noted 13 instances in San Rafael and 10 instances in Novato where the city did not receive the card before the property owner transferred the property or it did not receive the card at all. As a result, these cities do not have direct acknowledgement from the buyers that they received the reports and are aware of any existing violations that they are now responsible for addressing.

According to its chief building official, San Rafael decided not to pursue tracking or collecting outstanding homeowner’s cards because of insufficient staff resources. Novato’s code officer, on the other hand, stated that the city had a program in the past to track the receipt of these cards, but it discontinued the program because a low number of cards were being returned. Nevertheless, unless the cities pursue collecting homeowner’s cards, they cannot demonstrate that buyers are aware of health and safety issues that may exist on their properties and of their responsibility to correct them.

Novato and Pasadena Were Unable to Demonstrate Compliance With Their Additional Policy Requirements in a Few Instances

The procedures manual for Novato’s resale record program requires the city to issue an additional document along with the resale record report: a Letter of Violations (violation letter) to owners of properties with violations requiring permits. However, we noted a few instances in which Novato could not provide evidence that it was complying with this requirement. The violation letter gives the owner information about the nature of the violations that require a permit to be resolved and it establishes a time frame for obtaining that permit. Of the 20 resale record reports we selected, three of the 11 that required the property owner to complete additional actions to resolve unpermitted work had no record of a violation letter.

According to the Novato code officer, for one of these three properties, the inspector identified a water heater that had been replaced without a permit as the only violation, and for another of them, the inspector identified a permit that expired without final approval as the only permit violation. In both situations, the code officer stated that Novato’s practice is to not issue a violation letter. However, the city’s written procedures state that the city should issue a violation letter for any permit violations and it does not specify any exceptions to the policy, so Novato should have issued letters for these violations. For the third property, an apartment, the report indicated no violations, but the case file referenced a separate inspection conducted for the same property as part of the city’s multifamily inspection program that had unresolved permit violations at the time.3 As noted in the Introduction, Novato performs resale record inspections of multifamily dwellings as part of its resale record program, which is why we expected that the resale record report would have identified the permit violation, resulting in the city issuing a letter. According to the code officer, staff gave a copy of the resale record report to the owner along with a copy of the multifamily inspection report, which included a violation letter; however, the case file for this property does not refer to either document. The absence of a violation letter raises questions about whether property owners have been properly notified about timelines to resolve violations, which can hinder Novato’s attempts at following up on the resolution of permit violations.

In one instance, Pasadena also did not fully comply with one of its additional requirements, which is to ensure that property owners correct all violations before it issues an inspection certificate. Pasadena’s procedures state that the city can accept a resale record report that the owner has signed as proof that the owner resolved any violations the city identified as minor, which are violations that generally do not require reinspection. If the property has only minor violations and the property owner returns a signed report, the city then issues the inspection certificate. We noted that one of the eight properties we reviewed with minor violations was missing a signed report. The city’s records show that it did issue an inspection certificate for this property although the city cannot demonstrate that the property owner resolved the minor violations, which included missing smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors, before issuance of the inspection certificate. The building official speculated that an inspector in the city’s building inspection division may have verified the correction of the violations as part of a permit inspection, but he was not able to substantiate whether this occurred. Because the status of the minor violations is not documented, the city does not know if the property owner addressed all of those health and safety issues.

San Rafael and Pasadena Do Not Consistently Follow Their Policies for Taking Photographs of Property During Resale Record Inspections

In addition to the resale record report itself, each city has specified the types of photographs that the inspectors should take during inspections. The photographs help the inspectors document the condition of the property at the time of the inspection. Table 4 identifies the cities’ expectations and policies for inspectors taking photographs. Our review determined that Novato’s inspector follows the city’s policy for taking photos of the entire property, but that inspectors for San Rafael and Pasadena often do not.

Table 4
Summary of the Photograph Policies for the Cities' Residential Building Record Programs
Type of policy and year started Informal, verbal policy since 2014 Written administrative policy since 2012 Written administrative policy since 2006
Policy details Inspectors take photos of violations only, with the approval of the property owner. Inspectors take photos of entire property—particularly kitchen, bath(s), accessory structures, retaining and landscape walls, fence height, patio cover(s), deck(s), and other fixtures. Inspectors take photos of the front, each side, and the rear of the dwelling, as well as all accessory structures.

Sources: San Rafael’s staff and Novato’s and Pasadena’s residential building record inspection policies.

Although San Rafael does not have a written policy pertaining to photographing properties, it has had an informal policy since 2014 directing inspectors to take pictures of violations. We noted that only two of the 10 properties with violations we reviewed had photographs in their case file. According to the community development director, one reason for this omission is that some property owners have privacy concerns about allowing photographs of the interior of their homes. However, the case files that were missing photographs did not contain any notations that indicated that the inspector experienced resistance from the property owner. Formalizing the policy and documenting when property owners prevent inspectors from taking photos would aid the city in having thorough documentation of the inspections.

Pasadena also did not fully follow its administrative policies to take photographs of properties during resale record inspections. Specifically, Pasadena did not comply with its photo policy for five of 11 single‑family dwelling properties we reviewed. One of these properties had no photos in the case file. The building official stated that the inspector made a mistake in not attaching the photos to the case. The other four properties included some photos in the files, but the inspectors did not take photos of every angle of the properties as the Pasadena photo policy requires. For two of these properties, the inspectors cannot recall why they did not take photos of every angle. For the other two properties, the assigned inspector believed that the location or the size of some homes may have contributed to his inability to take adequate pictures in compliance with the city’s administrative policy. If staff followed the policy, the city would be better able to supplement the resale record report’s identification of violations existing at properties.

Documenting a property’s condition through photographs is one method that a city can use to strengthen its position when responding to complaints by property owners or enforcing the correction of violations. The following sections address our review of those processes and the extent to which the cities have formalized their efforts.

The Cities Do Not Have Formal Processes to Address Complaints in a Consistent Manner

Because San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena do not track the complaints they receive or the resolution of those complaints, we requested that the cities and local realtor associations provide us with specific property addresses that they were aware had resale record report complaints. In our review of five complaints for each city, we found that the cities lacked documentation to readily support their decisions, which limits their ability to substantiate complaints. However, we determined that all but one were resolved appropriately by compiling information from various sources and locations within the cities’ records to substantiate the complaints and the explanations for the resolutions. The cities also do not have written policies to ensure the quality of resale record inspections or reports.

The Cities Do Not Track the Status of Complaints or Their Resolutions

Officials from all three cities stated that they routinely receive inquiries related to resale record reports, which they do not consider to be complaints. For the purpose of our review, we defined a complaint as a statement of dissatisfaction with an action or request the city made of an owner pertaining to the program. A property owner who receives a resale record report may decide to submit a complaint to the city contesting the appropriateness of violations noted on the report. However, none of the three cities have a formal process for tracking complaints received or how they are resolved. We expected the cities to have a process in place to identify the types of complaints they receive and to track the timeliness and nature of the resolutions. Tracking complaint information would help the cities identify aspects of their resale record programs that could be improved or better communicated to property owners. The San Rafael and Novato community development directors stated that they do not have formal processes because they receive few complaints. Pasadena’s former director of the planning and community development department (former community development director) also said the city did not have a formal complaint process during his tenure and did not receive many complaints.4 Nevertheless, the lack of a formal process precludes the cities from readily identifying the number and types of complaints they receive and also limits their ability to readily demonstrate fairness and appropriateness in complaint resolutions. Further, this information can be beneficial for improving their respective resale record programs.

The Cities Generally Appear Justified in Their Approach for Addressing Complaints, but They Are Not Consistent in How They Make and Document Decisions

Because the cities lack formal processes for tracking resale record report complaints, we asked them and their local realtor associations for specific property addresses that had complaints. In many of these complaints, the owners had raised concerns about the validity of the violations noted on the resale record reports and the cities’ request for permits or additional documentation to address the violations. Examples included a homeowner complaining about the city requiring expensive architectural drawings to accompany a permit for a deck that had been on the property for years and another owner complaining about the appropriateness of the city requiring a permit for a garage converted into a family room. We reviewed five complaints pertaining to each city from these lists and attempted to substantiate whether the city had sufficiently researched the nature of the complaint and communicated with the property owner regarding any needed follow‑up activity.

In reviewing the cities’ databases for complaint information, we found that these records did not contain summaries of the complaints and resolutions for 12 of the 15 complaints. According to officials at each of the cities, staff are expected to document the complaints and decisions in their respective property databases although none of the cities have written policies outlining this process. Further, none of the three cities use a designated location within their databases to document information related to complaints and their resolutions. Without a uniform approach for documenting complaints as well as the cities’ rationales and subsequent resolutions, it can be difficult for the cities to be sure they have thoroughly addressed the complaints property owners raise.

Consequently, we had to compile information from various sources and locations within the cities’ records to substantiate the complaints and the explanations for the resolutions. Despite limitations in the organization of the cities’ records, we were able to determine that the cities appeared to have addressed each of the 15 complaints. For example, we reviewed an instance in which a property owner complained about Pasadena requiring him to obtain a permit for his basement conversion. We were able to verify the appropriateness of the city’s determination regarding the conversion because the inspector included a photograph in the property record showing the basement as being habitable space, as depicted in Figure 2. We also reviewed the permit history for that property and determined that no permits had been issued to date pertaining to the basement, and we were able to review the inspection certificate, which stated that the basement was to be used only for storage.

Figure 2
Residential Building Record Report Photograph of a Basement That Was Converted into a Family Room Without a Permit

City of Pasadena photograph from a residential building record report showing a basement that was converted into a family room without a permit.

Source: City of Pasadena

In all but one case, resolution of the complaint involved the city justifying its initial determination of the violation and requesting that the owner address the violation by obtaining a permit or modifying the property. However, we noted one instance in Novato in which the city incorrectly indicated a violation pertaining to an unpermitted bath remodel. The city informed the owner that a permit had not been filed, but the property owner provided the inspector with a copy of the permit the city had previously issued.

In addition, none of the cities have a written policy as to how staff should evaluate complaints, although San Rafael has written policies and practices describing how it will address certain situations that might escalate into formal complaints if not resolved. San Rafael established these policies and practices in June 2014 in consultation with its local realtor association to improve the administration and process of its resale record program. For example, the city will not require permits for certain kitchen or bathroom remodels if the unpermitted improvement was installed or constructed more than 25 years earlier and the city determines that the work was properly constructed. This type of document is useful for setting the expectations for how the city will identify violations. According to its community development director, Novato did not adopt such policies and practices in conjunction with its local realtor association because the association never requested it. However, he said that Novato will consider this when it begins updating its policies in March 2016. Finally, according to its building official, Pasadena always requires permits for work that is not exempt from permitting requirements in order to discourage unpermitted work. However, Pasadena staff met with its local realtor association in the past year and is continuing to have discussions with the association about developing a policy similar to that of San Rafael.

The Cities Have Difficulties Locating Permit Records to Address Some Complaints

Complaints related to unpermitted work violations can be exacerbated by the cities’ difficulties in locating permit records. Permit records are important documents because they confirm the city’s approval of modifications. If the cities identify property modifications that do not appear to have permits on file, they will require the owners to obtain them or provide proof that permits were previously obtained. Many of the complaints we reviewed pertained to the cities’ requiring permits for work that the property owners claimed either had existed before they assumed ownership or had already been permitted. As previously stated, in one of the Novato complaints we reviewed, the property owner provided a copy of the permit to the city after the inspector could not locate the original. The permit allowed the city to finalize the resale record report. A Pasadena realtor stated that his client waited for weeks after an inspection for the inspector to search for the permit that was ultimately never found. All three cities acknowledged challenges with the completeness or accessibility of older permit records that were maintained in hard copy or on microfiche. For example, a fire had destroyed some of Pasadena’s historical records. Also, San Rafael states on its website that supplemental documentation from realtors or property owners may support the dismissal of violations or augment the city’s permit records. These missing permit records undermine the cities’ ability to ensure the thorough and accurate administration of their resale record programs.

The Cities Have Not Consistently Ensured the Correction of Violations, Resulting in Backlogs and Lingering Health and Safety Risks

General Content of the Letters Informing Property Owners of Violations That Require Permits or Reinspection

San Rafael and Novato


Source: Cities of San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena.

Although San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena have policies and procedures for following up on inspections that identify violations requiring action from property owners, none of the cities consistently follow those policies and procedures. According to the documents it issues to owners after a resale record inspection uncovers violations, Novato generally gives the owner 30 days from the date of the report to resolve any violations that require permits or reinspection before it issues a reminder letter (notice letter). Pasadena also gives the owner 30 days from the date of the inspection to resolve any violations, but its policies state that the city shall issue an administrative citation to owners who do not correct the identified violations within the required deadlines. In contrast, San Rafael expects staff to immediately establish a code enforcement case in its database and issue a notice letter for properties with violations that require plans, permits, inspection, and approval. In circumstances where permit violations do not require a plan, such as a permit for a water heater replacement, the city allows the property owner 15 days after the resale record inspection to resolve the violations before it issues a notice letter. The text box presents the general content of each city’s notice letter.

Novato and Pasadena have been able to generate summary database reports to identify recent resale record inspections with unresolved violations requiring owners to take action, although we question the accuracy of Pasadena’s summary report and its usefulness in the city’s enforcement efforts. Both cities generated summary reports that identified numerous backlogged cases—over 300 in Novato and nearly 4,600 in Pasadena—over the past nine years and 15 years, respectively, that still appear to have outstanding violations from a resale record inspection. However, we identified some cases in Pasadena’s summary report in which property owners appear to have resolved their violations. In these cases, staff did not update the status of the case after issuing an inspection certificate, so the summary report still showed them as unresolved. As a result, the actual number of resale record cases with outstanding violations is likely less than the number reported.

Until late December 2015 San Rafael was unable to generate a summary report to identify properties with outstanding violations. Unlike the other two cities, San Rafael did not use identifiers for the status of inspections of its resale record cases, so its database cannot indicate all properties with outstanding violations. Instead, the city has relied on its resale record inspector to provide a hard copy of the resale record report to a code enforcement officer who then creates a code enforcement case for the property in the database. However, without reviewing each individual resale record report, San Rafael cannot easily identify properties with violations requiring permits or reinspection from resale record reports predating September 2015, when the city assigned a temporary employee to actively monitor the correction of violations. Although the city does not know how many properties have unresolved violations, its chief building official’s best estimate was that the backlog of properties that had resale record inspections in 2015 with unresolved permit violations was about 150 cases as of November 2015.

The three cities cited staff workload as the primary cause of their backlogs, although they have taken some action over the past two years to temporarily bolster their efforts at directing property owners to correct violations. Both San Rafael and Novato have enlisted temporary staff to assist in addressing enforcement backlogs and Pasadena has reassigned a contractor in its efforts. As mentioned previously, San Rafael assigned a temporary employee to monitor compliance using the enforcement process for resale record reports. According to its chief building official, the temporary employee finished the code enforcement process for the backlog of cases from calendar year 2015 in early February 2016 and has begun to follow up on prior resale record inspections that require permits. Novato’s code officer stated that the city reassigned two employees from other departments on a part‑time basis to assist with enforcement for cases that originated from 2008 to 2012. He plans to use a reassigned city employee again in April 2016 to continue the enforcement on these older cases. According to Pasadena’s city officials, the city reassigned a contractor in December 2015 to assist in reducing the city’s backlog in enforcement for resale record inspections.

For each city, we reviewed a selection of resale record reports with unresolved violations to assess the cities’ compliance with their policies: 15 each in Novato and San Rafael and 12 in Pasadena. As described in Table 2, our methodology for selecting reports to review the cities’ recent enforcement actions primarily relied on the resale record reports we reviewed as part of our audit objective addressing compliance. Specifically, we initially selected any reports with violations requiring permits or reinspection from the pool of reports we used for determining whether the cities complied with their policies and procedures from July 2014 to October 2015. Because our selection of the resale record reports in Pasadena had fewer properties with permit violations during this time period, we reviewed fewer violations for this city. We then selected some additional reports requiring permits or reinspection for each city, including a few older cases. Five of the older reports among the cities had violations unresolved longer than five years, including one Pasadena property with violations unresolved since 2004.

We found that neither San Rafael nor Novato has initiated the enforcement process for a majority of the properties we reviewed, despite city policies requiring them to do so. Only two properties in San Rafael and four properties in Novato had their violations resolved before the cities needed to begin their enforcement process. San Rafael created code enforcement cases in its database for only three properties out of 13 with unresolved violations and issued only one notice letter as of November 2015. Of those 13 properties, eight still had unresolved violations at that time, including one property inspected in 2009 and another in 2012. However, subsequent to our review, the community development director stated that the city has initiated the enforcement process on most of the properties with unresolved violations that we tested. For Novato, out of 11 properties with unresolved violations, the city issued only two notice letters. Seven of those 11 properties—including three properties from 2008, 2010, and 2012—still had unresolved violations in November 2015.

Pasadena has also not initiated its enforcement process for most of the properties we reviewed for which activity should have occurred. Only one property had all of its violations resolved within the appropriate timeline, and three other properties had not yet reached a point where the city needed to begin its enforcement. Although Pasadena’s policies state that the city shall issue administrative citations for properties with violations that are not resolved within the required deadlines, the city did not issue citations for the remainder of the properties we reviewed. According to the building official, Pasadena’s practice is to issue a notice letter before it issues administrative citations. However, of eight properties with outstanding violations, the city issued only one notice letter and the remaining properties still had unresolved violations as of November 2015, including one property from 2004 and another from 2007.

Furthermore, Pasadena is not always ensuring that property owners are resolving all violations before issuing an inspection certificate. Specifically, the city issued inspection certificates to two of the 12 properties we reviewed despite the absence of evidence demonstrating that the owners obtained the necessary permits or requested reinspection. This is contrary to its ordinance, which states that Pasadena will not authorize a property to be occupied if major violations remain unresolved. According to the building official, city staff resolved the violations but did not document the resolution within the case file.

Officials at each city stated that violations may remain unresolved for extended periods because their goal is to bring properties into compliance with current law and they are willing to delay the enforcement process as long as the property owner is demonstrating a good‑faith effort in remedying the violations. The cities are able to determine if property owners are making a good‑faith effort by contacting them to learn of their progress and by reviewing the properties’ permit application history. Nevertheless, each city has a process to take legal action if violations are not corrected in the time frames established in its policies. When we asked the cities if they escalated their enforcement of the cases, San Rafael’s community development director and Pasadena’s building official stated that they were not aware of any instances related to resale record reports in which they had elevated the enforcement in the past two years, while Novato’s code officer stated that the city sent one resale record case to a hearing in the past two years.

Furthermore, we found no evidence in each city’s resale record files within its database to indicate the degree to which property owners were making progress in correcting the violations, aside from some notations in San Rafael’s and Novato’s resale record files that referenced conversations the two cities had with the property owners. These notations did not describe the property owners’ actions and progress in correcting violations, such as applying for a permit. Without the cities documenting such information in the resale record files, it is unclear if they have been determining whether the property owners were making good‑faith efforts to correct the violations. By not thoroughly following up on properties with unresolved violations, the cities cannot demonstrate having taken appropriate actions to protect residents from health and safety issues identified during resale record inspections.

We also found that in each city, it is common for the same property to have repeated violations over several years. Examples of repeated violations include water heaters missing required strapping and unpermitted renovations. For the 20 properties we reviewed for each city, we found repeated violations in reports for nine properties in San Rafael, 13 properties in Novato, and 15 properties in Pasadena. Many of these were violations for which the cities do not require permits or reinspection to verify that the property owners made corrections. Table 5 identifies some examples of these types of violations and the risks associated with not correcting them. Novato’s resale record inspector reviews previous reports before conducting an inspection and preparing a new report. This research informs the inspector of prior violations and whether structural changes have occurred that require permits since the city conducted the prior inspection. According to its building official, Pasadena’s resale record inspectors only review past reports for which the city has not issued an inspection certificate or received a signed report. San Rafael’s chief building official stated that its resale record inspector does not review previous reports, but the city will be looking into adding this step to its process. By not reviewing all previous reports, the inspectors may not know if the violations they find have been identified previously.

Table 5
Examples of Common Repeat Violations Identified in Residential Building Record Reports at San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena
No solid self-closing door between garage and dwelling Fires may spread and fumes, including carbon monoxide, may enter the dwelling.
Pool fence or gate not installed Unattended children may gain access to pool and drown.
Water heater does not have strapping During earthquakes, water heaters without strapping may move or tip over, which could result in a fire hazard due to gas line leaks or flooding from broken water lines.

Sources: Residential building record reports from the cities of San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena; and various websites containing health and safety information.

Note: San Rafael and Novato do not require permits for the above violations. According to Pasadena’s building official, Pasadena requires permits in some cases for the above violations.

San Rafael’s chief building official and Novato’s code officer cited insufficient staffing for why their cities do not enforce repeated violations. Pasadena’s officials informed us that they rely on the property owner’s signature on the report as the indication that these violations were resolved and consider recurrences of these violations as new violations by subsequent owners. However, as indicated previously, we found violations at 15 of 20 properties we tested at Pasadena that continued to exist. Additionally, if the cities believe that repeated violations are important enough to identify as needing correction, they should ensure that those violations are corrected.

Two Cities Did Not Always Meet Their Time Goals, and the Other City Did Not Fully Establish Goals

Establishing time goals for conducting resale record inspections and completing reports allows the cities to measure their responsiveness to property owners’ requests, thereby aiding owners in their efforts to sell or transfer their properties promptly. As shown in Table 6, the three cities have established time goals for completing resale record reports. San Rafael’s and Pasadena’s goals are measured from the date an individual submits an application for the resale record report to the date the property inspection occurs (application to inspection), and then from the inspection date to when the report is issued (inspection to report issuance). San Rafael’s goal from application to inspection is 12 business days, composed of seven business days from when the application is received to when the inspection is scheduled, and five business days from that point until the inspection. It also has a goal of two business days from inspection to report issuance, for an overall goal of 14 business days. Pasadena measures its time goals using calendar days rather than business days, and it has a goal of seven calendar days from application to inspection. In addition, according to its former community development director, Pasadena has had an informal time goal of one calendar day from inspection to report issuance. In contrast, Novato established a time goal of 10 business days from inspection to report issuance, but it does not have a time goal from application to inspection.

Table 6
Summary of the Cities' Processing Times for a Selection of Residential Building Record Reports From July 2014 Through October 2015
City’s time goal 12 business days 2 business days No goal 10 business days 7 calendar days 1 calendar day
Average number of days to process a report for the 20 properties we reviewed 5.4 1.1 5.6 5.6 9.6 Unable to determine*
Number of instances (out of 20) that the city did not meet its time goal 0 4 No goal 0 8 Unable to determine*

Sources: California State Auditor’s analysis of residential building record reports (report); the cities’ ordinances, policies, and procedures; and interviews with the cities’ staff.

* We could not determine when staff issued the report because Pasadena’s database does not contain this information and the reports do not identify the issuance date.

As summarized in Table 6, we reviewed 20 resale record reports from each city that had applications submitted between July 2014 and October 2015. We found that Novato met its time goal of 10 business days from inspection to report issuance for all 20 properties, although we discuss our concerns about the reasonableness of this goal later in this section. However, San Rafael and Pasadena did not meet their time goals in some instances. Specifically, San Rafael took one or two additional business days to meet its inspection to report issuance goal in four instances. Nevertheless, the city was still able to issue resale record reports for these properties within 14 business days of their application dates because it had completed the inspections in less time than its stated application to inspection goal. In addition, Pasadena did not meet its goal of seven calendar days from application to inspection in eight instances, ranging instead between two and 20 additional calendar days beyond its goal. As we discuss later in this section, we were unable to determine if Pasadena met its inspection to report issuance goal.

One possible factor for the cities not meeting their time goals is the seasonal nature of the housing market, which can vary among the cities. According to city officials who supervise the resale record program, completing resale record inspections and reports in a timely manner can be challenging during the peak periods of housing sales because a high volume of inspection requests occurs during that time. In addition, San Rafael’s chief building official cited insufficient staffing as a reason the city would be unable to meet its time goal from inspection to report issuance for some properties. However, in our review of resale record reports for each city, we found instances throughout different times of the year in which resale record inspections and reports took longer to complete.

Another factor in Pasadena not meeting its time goal from application to inspection is its practice of allowing property owners to schedule resale record inspections for a specific date instead of the next available date. Pasadena’s building official informed us that the city does not have the ability to separately track instances in which a property owner chooses a resale record inspection date. In those situations, the city has no control over whether it can achieve its stated time goal. Nevertheless, if Pasadena developed a process to separately identify those applicants who request specific resale record inspection dates, it could subsequently focus on scheduling the other inspections over which it does have control.

Pasadena also does not track the date of the resale record reports it issues. Although its database can document the report issuance date, inspectors are not recording this information upon issuing the reports. Further, the city does not identify the issuance date on the report itself, thereby precluding it from being able to monitor the timeliness of preparing its reports. Pasadena’s building official was unclear about why the city does not track the report issuance date. However, the city indicated that it is planning to begin doing so in April 2016. The lack of this information hinders the city’s ability to refute claims by property owners regarding excessive delays in issuing resale record reports, which may impact the timing of property sales.

In addition, despite establishing time goals, none of the cities have a formal process to monitor whether they meet their time frames. According to SanRafael’s chief building official, his department does not track the timelines of its processes because the time required to monitor them is not worth the effort. Further, San Rafael’s building official stated that he had not received complaints about the length of time for processing resale record reports. According to Novato’s community development director, the city has received complaints regarding the timeliness of its resale record report processing due, in part, to the average escrow period being shortened from 45 days to 10 days, which has placed more pressure on the timeliness of report completion. Pasadena officials did not provide a reason for not tracking timelines other than to say that the ordinance does not require such tracking; however, the city’s time goal is stipulated within its rules and regulations regarding inspections. Additionally, by not monitoring the time goals they have established, these cities have a limited ability to demonstrate accountability and to appropriately inform the public about the efficiency of their resale record programs.

Unlike the other two cities, Novato has not established a time goal from application to inspection. According to its code officer, the length of time from receiving an application to performing an inspection depends on the availability of the city’s primary inspector, who performs the resale record inspections. In addition, according to the city’s development permit supervisor, the city will schedule these inspections for a specific date, instead of the next available date, if the property owner so requests. However, the city does not separately track circumstances where it accommodates these requests. As a result, the city cannot distinguish whether a lengthy period from application to inspection was within its control. Although Novato does not track these requests, our review of the 20 selected reports determined that the city averaged five to six business days from receiving an application to conducting an inspection. In four instances, the city took 12 or more business days to perform the inspections. Not having a time goal from application to inspection can make it challenging for Novato to demonstrate the effectiveness of its scheduling process. Defining a time goal from application to inspection would also establish expectations for customer service.

In comparing the three cities’ time goals from inspection to report issuance, Novato’s goal of 10 business days is substantially longer than the two business days for San Rafael and one calendar day for Pasadena. Although some differences may exist among the cities in the activities they perform after the resale record inspection and before the report is issued, we determined that the average time each city’s staff spends during this period is comparable. Therefore, it would seem reasonable for Novato to issue a report much sooner than 10 business days after an inspection. In fact, the city completed the entire resale record process, from application to report issuance, within 10 business days for half of the 20 properties we reviewed.

According to the code officer, Novato has not updated its goal from inspection to report issuance because this period of time allows the city more flexibility in handling resale record inspections during the peak season. Further, the community development director stated that Novato may consider reducing the time frame for report preparation, but the city has not made a determination at this time. Nevertheless, given the number of activities that take place during this time, we believe that the city should significantly reduce the time goal from inspection to report issuance.

The Cities Lack Processes to Demonstrate the Appropriateness of Their Fees

The fees the cities charge for resale record reports vary by the type of dwelling. Table 7 presents a breakdown of the current fees for each city as well as the components included in the fees. For example, although Novato charges more than San Rafael for a single‑family dwelling, its fee includes the cost of enforcing the correction of violations that staff identify during resale record inspections. Novato’s fee structure has remained the same since 2006, and San Rafael’s fees have been the same since 2010. In contrast, Pasadena has adjusted its fees periodically based on the consumer price index since updating its fees in 2006.

Although these fee structures have been in place for several years, San Rafael and Pasadena could not document how the current amounts were calculated and how those fees are commensurate with the costs incurred to operate their resale record programs. The California Constitution and related case law provide that local regulatory or service fees may be imposed only to cover the costs of the regulatory program or services rendered. Therefore, the fees the cities charge should not exceed the reasonable cost of providing the services necessary for the resale record activities and they cannot be levied for unrelated purposes. Despite the lack of documentation, San Rafael and Pasadena informed us that they are subsidizing their resale record programs through funding from their general funds, but they were unable to quantify the amount of their subsidies.

Table 7
Comparison of the 2015 Residential Building Record Program Fees
Most recent update to fee schedule 2010 2006 2015
Single‑family dwelling $165 $274 $135
Duplex $330 $273 $270
Condominium (first unit) $150 $236 $135
Condominium (additional unit) $150 $37 $135
Apartment (first unit) $165 $236 Not applicable*
Apartment (additional unit) $50 $37 Not applicable*
Unimproved lot Not applicable $219 Not applicable
Components of the fee (per city officials): • Processing applications for residential building record (resale record) inspections
• Scheduling inspections
• Researching permit history
• Conducting the inspection
• Preparing and issuing the resale record report (report)
• Processing applications for resale record inspections
• Scheduling inspections
• Researching permit history
• Conducting the inspection
• Preparing and issuing the report
• Monitoring and enforcing correction of certain permit violations
• Processing applications for resale record inspections
• Scheduling inspections
• Researching permit history
• Conducting the inspection
• Preparing and issuing the report
• Monitoring and enforcing correction of certain permit violations

Sources: Cities of San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena.

* Pasadena does not conduct resale record inspections on apartment buildings because the ordinance specifies that resale record inspections are to be conducted only on single‑family dwellings and duplexes. The city administers a separate program—the quadrennial inspection program—for multifamily dwellings, which results in inspections for apartments every four years regardless of whether the property is being sold. San Rafael and Novato have similar inspection programs for multifamily dwellings in addition to performing a resale record inspection of these properties when they are sold.

Novato is the only city that we reviewed that inspects unimproved lots because its ordinance specifies that the resale record reports are to be obtained for all residential properties, which are defined in the ordinance to include both improved and unimproved real property. In contrast, San Rafael’s ordinance specifies that reports must be obtained for residential buildings, which are defined as improved property, and Pasadena’s ordinance specifies that a Certificate of Inspection must be obtained any time a unit of property changes occupancy and/or ownership.

In contrast, Novato maintains specific financial information on its resale record program independent from other city programs. The city initially acknowledged that it had not analyzed whether its fees are appropriate, but it performed an analysis in January 2016 at our prompting that concluded that the city had subsidized the resale record program by $30,200 in fiscal year 2014–15. According to Novato’s finance manager, the fees were established in 2006 to cover total costs and the city has not increased its fees to reflect inflation or salary increases for applicable employees. In addition, he questioned the relevance of analyzing the components of the current fees because the city has not adjusted its fees since it established them to cover total costs. Nevertheless, performing a cost analysis would allow the city to demonstrate whether its fees are appropriate or need to be adjusted.

Furthermore, although the three cities asserted that they established their resale record inspection fees based on the results of previous cost studies, only Novato was able to provide detailed support for how these fees were calculated and only after it requested this information from the external consultant who completed the 2006 cost study. San Rafael’s building official was unable to find documentation for the analysis he completed for the 2009 cost study that was used to establish the current inspection fees. Instead, he provided a draft of an analysis he prepared in May 2015 for the purpose of requesting a fee change that shows the city’s current cost to conduct an inspection for a single‑family dwelling. His analysis involved identifying the time staff spend on resale record inspection activities and using personnel and overhead rates to calculate total costs. That analysis concluded that the city’s current fees are significantly below the costs incurred, indicating that the city needs to increase its fees to cover these costs. However, the department has not yet presented the proposed fee change to the city council for approval. Additionally, it is unclear whether the city was charging appropriate fees at the time their current fees were established.

According to a management analyst at Pasadena, the city was unable to locate the detailed support for the cost analysis conducted in 2006 by a consultant contracted by the city. The consultant concluded that the city was undercharging for resale inspections. In response to our inquiries, Pasadena performed a cost analysis in January 2016 in which it used estimates of time staff spend on both resale record inspection and enforcement activities and applied them to personnel costs. The city concluded that it is undercharging for the program’s administration. However, similar to San Rafael, it is unclear whether Pasadena was charging appropriate resale record fees at the time those fees were established.

To assess the reasonableness of their current fees, we calculated the basic costs the cities incur to conduct a resale record inspection. We focused on the processing of an individual resale record report for single‑family and condominium dwellings, which, according to the cities’ staff, are the most common type of fees charged. We interviewed management and the staff responsible for processing resale records to identify appropriate tasks to include in the cost and their estimates of the time required to perform these tasks. We then applied each staff member’s hourly rate to the time spent contributing to the report’s completion. San Rafael and Novato include the total salary, benefits, and overhead costs of their applicable staff in the calculation of the individuals’ hourly rates, whereas Pasadena includes only the total salary and benefits in its calculation. According to a management analyst in the planning and community development department, Pasadena was unable to determine the total amount of overhead costs attributable to the resale record inspections.

Based on our analysis, we determined that San Rafael and Novato are likely undercharging property owners of single‑family residences and condominiums. Because Pasadena was unable to tell us how much overhead cost should be attributed to its resale record inspections, we could not determine if that city was undercharging property owners. However, subsequent to several discussions—including during our closing conference—regarding its inability to identify its overhead costs, Pasadena provided us with a recent draft cost study in which the contracted consultant concluded that the city is currently undercharging for inspections. The consultant identified overhead costs that it included in its calculation of the resale record inspection costs that the city was initially unable to determine. The city subsequently provided us with supporting documentation for these costs that the consultant extracted from the city’s accounting system. We questioned how its consultant was able to identify overhead costs when city staff had been unable to do so. According to a management analyst, the planning and community development department was not aware of how to quantify these additional costs and relied on the consultant’s expertise to obtain this information.

Proposition 26, enacted at the statewide general election on November 2, 2010, amended the California Constitution to define tax to mean any levy, charge, or exaction of any kind imposed by a local government, and it places the burden on the local agency to demonstrate, among other things, that a fee, as opposed to a tax, constitutes reasonable regulatory costs for inspections. Proposition 26 applies to fees increased on or after November 2, 2010, and Pasadena is the only one of the three cities we reviewed that has adjusted its fees since that date. However, San Rafael and Novato will also be subject to the requirements of Proposition 26 if they increase their fees.

Although Inspectors Are Qualified, the Cities Do Not Have Standards for Continuing Education and Do Not Maintain Supporting Records

The responsibilities of resale record inspection staff vary among the three cities, which accounts for differences in the minimum job qualifications each city has established. Table 8 summarizes the minimum established qualifications for staff who perform the resale record inspections. San Rafael requires its resale record inspectors to obtain an International Code Council (ICC) certification within two years of employment. Its human resources director noted that the required qualifications for resale record inspectors are the same as for the city’s building inspector classification, which requires ICC certification. She noted that the city hires temporary employees to perform resale record inspections and to fill in for building inspectors as needed, so they are required to meet the minimum qualifications for the building inspector classification. According to the ICC, California and the other 49 states have adopted its international codes at the state level, comprising a complete set of coordinated building safety and fire prevention codes. Although Pasadena does not require the ICC certification for its inspectors, two of the three current resale record inspectors have this certification. On the other hand, Novato does not require any type of certification for its resale record inspectors. Novato’s code officer explained that the city does not require certification because the State does not require it.

Table 8
Comparison of the 2015 Residential Building Record Program Fees
San Rafael: Building Inspector I Graduation from an accredited high school or equivalent. Two years of responsible experience in a variety of building construction work. Within two years of appointment, must obtain International Code Council (ICC) certification as a condition of continued employment.* Continuing education is a requirement of the certification. Individuals must have at least 1.5 continuing education units every three years, which is equivalent to 15 hours.
Novato: Code Enforcement Officer Completion of 12th grade with classes in urban planning, business administration, or related field. Two years of experience with the public and in the interpretation of rules, laws, or procedures. Some code inspection and enforcement experience is desirable. No minimum requirements.
Pasadena: Code Compliance Officer No minimum requirements. Two years of experience in zoning, housing or building inspection, or related municipal code inspection work. No requirement for ICC certification. Code compliance officers must complete a peace officer arrest and firearms course (course), and earn a certification, before their probation period ends so that they have the authority to issue citations.† There are no continuing education requirements for this position or for the course.

Sources: Cities of San Rafael’s, Novato’s, and Pasadena’s job class specifications and ICC’s Continuing Education Requirements.

* Certification from the ICC demonstrates that an individual has knowledge of various construction regulatory codes, standards, and practices.

The city’s code compliance officers need to complete this course and obtain the certification because they ensure compliance with local zoning codes and enforce housing quality and property maintenance ordinances.

We determined that most of the resale record inspection staff in these cities during the past five years either met or exceeded the minimum qualifications for their positions. We obtained and reviewed the personnel records for the 16 individuals who have primarily performed resale record inspections for San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena since 2010 and determined that 10 of them exceeded the minimum qualifications and two others met the minimum qualifications. In most cases, these inspectors had met or exceeded the years of experience requirement in addition to holding the applicable certification. We were unable to verify the qualifications of one former city employee and three contracted resale record inspectors in San Rafael because the city did not have the applicable supporting records. According to San Rafael’s human resources director and the chief building official, the city does not keep certifications in personnel records nor does it maintain personnel records for contracted personnel.

Although San Rafael and Pasadena have ICC‑certified building inspectors performing resale record inspections, officials at both cities stated that the certification is desirable but not necessary for staff to perform resale record inspections. San Rafael’s chief building official stated that these inspections do not require the same level of technical training that building inspections require. As previously stated, the city’s resale record inspectors must meet the city’s building inspector minimum qualifications by obtaining ICC certification within two years of employment because they fill in for building inspectors as needed. According to Pasadena’s interim director of the planning and community development department, his department would benefit from its resale record inspectors obtaining ICC certification, so they would have advanced knowledge of the code requirements, which can be useful during inspections.

Regardless of the level of expertise and presence of certifications, officials at the three cities believe their resale record inspectors can proficiently perform their jobs because they receive on‑the‑job training and participate in external training events. Although all three cities’ resale record inspectors have attended continuing education sessions on building standards, the cities have not established continuing education requirements to ensure that their staff remain current on the code requirements. The California Building Standards Commission is the entity that the California Building Standards Law authorizes to administer the many processes related to the State’s code requirements, and it initiates updates to those requirements every three years. The frequency of these changes directly impacts the resale record inspectors’ responsibilities, which emphasizes the importance of participating in relevant continuing education. We identified several training courses that would be valuable for resale record inspectors, such as a course on housing enforcement, laws, and property maintenance codes administered by the California Association of Code Enforcement Officials and a class on residential inspections, covering compliance with recent state codes, sponsored by the California Building Officials Training Institute. The absence of continuing education standards could result in inconsistent performance by resale record inspectors. Officials at the three cities agreed that it is beneficial to establish a continuing education requirement to ensure that resale record inspectors are current on building standards.

Further, the three cities do not keep centralized records of the continuing education their resale record inspectors have attended. In addition, San Rafael does not maintain applicable certification documents pertaining to its inspectors. We expected to find this documentation in either the cities’ personnel records or the records of the departments that administer the resale record program. However, when we asked the three cities for documentation of the continuing education staff had attended, and for certificates in San Rafael, they had to request those records directly from the inspectors.

The cities’ officials explained that they rely on their staff to maintain continuing education records. San Rafael’s chief building official stated that he has not kept continuing education records for his staff because he is aware of these training classes through his approval of training requests; however, he acknowledged that he does not keep comprehensive records of the training requests. According to Novato’s code officer, who oversees the resale record program, his department does not maintain training records because individuals are responsible for maintaining their own records and providing them to the department when requested. According to Pasadena’s former community development director, maintaining records of certification and continuing education was impractical for that department. However, Pasadena recently filled a position in February 2016 that will maintain certification and continuing education records, among other duties. Until the cities maintain continuing education records, they may be limited in their ability to defend the quality of their staff and programs.


To ensure that the cities are aware of the degree of property owners’ compliance with the cities’ respective resale record ordinances, San Rafael, Novato, and Pasadena should implement procedures that can help them monitor the sale or exchange of properties that require resale record inspections. The cities should work with applicable stakeholders, such as realtors, to aid in these efforts.

To verify that new property owners are aware of the health and safety concerns at their properties and any corrections they need to make, San Rafael and Novato should each develop a process to ensure that they receive homeowners’ cards. Pasadena should develop a process to ensure that staff sign the inspection certificates and add them to the city’s database.

To ensure that the cities can monitor the satisfaction individuals have with their resale record programs and that the cities each have a uniform approach for resolving complaints, the three cities should develop a formal process for tracking the complaints they receive. In addition, they should each develop a formal policy that describes how staff should evaluate complaints, and they should document their activities associated with resolving complaints, such as the resolutions and the rationales for those resolutions. They should also establish a designated location in their respective databases to record this information.

The cities should develop formal written procedures for staff to follow up on property owners’ correction of violations. These procedures should identify the following:

To ensure that staff can identify any repeat violations, San Rafael’s staff should review prior resale record inspection reports before conducting subsequent resale record inspections.

To ensure that property owners correct violations in a timely manner, the three cities should do the following:

To ensure that the cities conduct their resale record inspections and complete the reports in a timely manner, the following should occur:

To ensure that the resale record fees they charge are appropriate, the following should occur:

To ensure that the cities can demonstrate that their resale record inspectors are qualified, the following should occur:

We conducted this audit under the authority vested in the California State Auditor by section 8543 et seq. of the California Government Code and according to generally accepted government auditing standards. Those standards require that we plan and perform the audit to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to provide a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives specified in the Scope and Methodology section of the report. We believe that the evidence obtained provides a reasonable basis for our findings and conclusions based on our audit objectives.

Respectfully submitted,

State Auditor

March 24, 2016

Linus Li, CPA, CMA, Audit Principal
Myriam K. Czarniecki, MPA, CIA
Jessica Derebenskiy
Bridget Peri, MBA

Legal Counsel:
Richard B. Weisberg, Senior Staff Counsel

For questions regarding the contents of this report, please contact Margarita Fernández, Chief of Public Affairs, at 916.445.0255.


3 The multifamily inspection program is a separate program that ensures that apartments and hotels are in compliance with all applicable city ordinances or other laws to enable the city to uphold public health, safety, and welfare. The city’s policy is to conduct inspections of multifamily dwellings annually. Go back to text.

4 During the time of our audit fieldwork, we obtained information and perspective from the director of Pasadena’s planning and community development department, who subsequently left the city in January 2016. Go back to text.

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