TOMS RIVER – The Township Council held off on approving an ordinance that would require an inspection before someone sells property in order to catch any illegal improvements to homes or businesses.
The ordinance, as it is currently written, would require a certificate of continued occupancy before a building is sold or transferred. An inspector would need to come in and check certain things before it was sold.
Property is normally inspected before a sale, but by a private contractor. This would be a township inspector looking for nonconforming and potentially dangerous changes that a property owner had made without getting permits.
The inspection will be to see if the property is in compliance with health, safety, building, construction, zoning, fire, and property maintenance codes.
The application fee is $100. If there are problems and the inspector needs to come out a second time, there would not be additional charges. There would be an additional $50 charge for every time they come out after that.
After several people spoke against the ordinance, the council said they would work on it and make some changes.
George Kasimos, a realtor and broker, said that it would cause a large burden on real estate transactions.
“Deals are going to fall through. I deal with these in other towns and they’re a disaster,” he said.
People have sheds or outdoor showers that have been there forever, and then they would have to tear them down before a sale, he said. It would be inconvenient and costly.
Council members said that if the homeowner could prove that the non-conforming parts of their home were there when they bought the house, they could be grandfathered in. This would only affect those non-conforming parts that they added while owning the property.
Councilwoman Maria Maruca said there are a lot of people who live on the waterfront who buy a two-family home and find out afterward that it is not legal.
“This ordinance allows the town to go in and see what’s going on,” she said.
Resident Martha Bowden asked what the rationale was for hiring three people to do these inspections. At $50,000 a year, would there be enough property transfers to support these three new salaries?
Ortley resident Paul Jeffrey said in general, he believes it’s a good idea. However, he warned that homeowners might have trouble proving that something illegal was done by a previous owner.
Another issue is that sometimes people are in a position where they have to sell because they can’t afford the property. Requiring them to take down improvements to the house is an additional financial burden. Language should be added that the buyer can pay to make the changes.
The ordinance would protect the buyer who might not know that the seller did something illegal. However, the ordinance reads that the application for the certificate of continued occupancy needs to be filed at least 21 days prior to the anticipated closing date. He suggested that the 21-day part of the ordinance be extended because these things take time.
Ortley resident Pat Klasto said she is in favor of the ordinance. She said she follows every town ordinance, but sees her neighbors putting on additions and showers when they shouldn’t be allowed.
“It’s going on all over the place and it’s not fair to those who are paying our fair share,” she said.
Business administrator Paul Shives was absent from the meeting, but explained the next day that the inspectors would be looking for primarily health and safety issues. They want to make sure the staircases are secure, the furnace is operational, the water is drinkable, etc.
“We’ve been living this after Sandy,” he said. People have been coming in for permits to rebuild or elevate and find that the additions and sheds in their homes are non-conforming. Garages have been converted into living spaces in some cases.
“Every town around us, that I’m aware of, except Lakewood, has this ordinance,” he said.
The $50,000 per inspector would cover salary and benefits, he said. The expectation is that the charges for the inspection would cover the pay.