Unit Inspections: Are They Necessary Before Moving People into Housing?

I suspect you, like me, want to see program participants move into apartments that are clean, functional, and helps promote the dignity of being housed. Avoiding slumlords is a must. Avoiding units and buildings that are literally falling apart or are unsafe is a must. Is a unit inspection by a third party or a specific staff person with expertise inspecting units necessary to ensure that a unit is in decent shape and suitable to move into and live within necessary?

There is a lot of variation in how this is handled in communities across the United States and Canada. There is not tried and true method for doing it best. I think, however, the 5 biggest factors for consideration are:

  1. Consistency in unit standards – the degree to which a unit may or may not be habitable should not be contingent upon opinions of whomever is doing the assessment;
  2. Scope of assessment – ensuring that what is reviewed is focused on habitable and what would be within a tenant’s sphere of influence to correct or modify if there are deficiencies…not a complete building condition study or engineering audit;
  3. If the process unduly interferes with the ability to get people housed rapidly – while many communities struggle to find housing that is within an affordable price range which already impacts the speed with which people can be housed, having to wait weeks or months for an inspection to occur after a unit has been identified is a no-win situation;
  4. Caliber and reputation of the landlords – the ways in which smaller unit landlords/owners manage their product is often different from how larger property managers/landlords manager their entire portfolio;
  5. Consumer choice – we offer housing choices and not housing placements, and the end user of our services should get a direct say in whether the quality of a particular unit meets her/his/their needs rather than being told by a program that they would be permitted or not permitted to live in a particular dwelling.

If a community/organization does not go the route of having a dedicated staff person to expediently handy unit inspections, that does not mean a unit should not be inspected. Housing support workers/case managers can be trained on how to do a layperson unit inspection prior to move in, which focuses on the same major parts of a dwelling that a third party or dedicated inspector would examine. Using a simple checklist it is possible to remark on the state of repair of such things as water, electricity, general wear and tear, doors, windows, sleeping area, closets, bathroom, kitchen, etc. prior to move in.  We also recommend pictures be taken and stored prior to move in so that if there are any complaints or considerations there is documented visual proof of what the unit was like prior to moving into the housing.

If a community/organization continues to want third party or special staff to do the unit inspections, I would recommend that community/organization to be clear with itself on how they believe doing so adds value to the process, and whether there is any household unduly or negatively impacted by the process.

About Iain De Jong

Leader. Edutainer. Coach. Consultant. Professor. Researcher. Blogger. Do-gooder. Potty mouth. Positive disruptor. Relentless advocate for social justice. Comedian. Dad. Minimalist. Recovering musician. Canadian citizen. International jetsetter. Living life in jeans and a t-shirt. Trying really hard to end homelessness in developed countries around the world, expand harm reduction practices, make housing happen, and reform the justice system. Driven by change, fuelled by passion. Winner of a shit ton of prestigious awards, none of which matter unless change happens in how we think about vulnerability, marginality, and inclusion.

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