City punishes ventilation violations

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    By Kimberly McLean

    Provo City received the support it needed from the Utah County Health Department to continue enforcing the requirement of separate ventilation systems for each dwelling unit.

    Roughly 200 units in Provo are in violation of this building code.

    Ventilation systems between attached dwelling units, such as upstairs and basement apartments of houses, have several adverse health-related repercussions from the sharing of re-circulated air, said Joseph Miner, executive secretary for the Utah County Health Department. Miner stated his stance firmly in last week?s Board of Health meeting.

    The most severe repercussion: the spread of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis.

    In a letter to city officials, Miner wrote: “There is also a concern for adverse health effects from odors, fumes, pet dander and secondhand smoke. These types of things can trigger asthma episodes or cause other respiratory problems.”

    The city was questioning the necessity of the 1946 ordinance because of its hefty cost to landlords and difficulty to enforce.

    Provo building officials said they realize it can be difficult for landlords to keep up with altering building codes, but Dennis Thomas, a city building inspector, said all new buildings are built to code. Older units, on the other hand, are harder to monitor.

    Thomas said Provo only has two real ways to monitor building conditions. The first is if a tenant reports hazardous living conditions, and the second depends on the owner to apply for a business license so an inspector can check the site for code violations and other life safety hazards.

    ?I think we?ve resolved some real hell-holes in this city, but there are still a lot that haven?t been taken care of properly,? said Chuck Hugo, Provo?s chief building official.

    With more houses recently being converted to apartments, Hugo said ventilation units have become a serious life safety issue.

    However, many landlords may be hesitant to fix such problems because of the cost and time required to install new ventilation units.

    ?Installing an entirely new ventilation system usually costs between $1000 and $1500,? said Mark Lowe, a heating technician for Provo ventilation company ESCO Heating and Air Conditioning. ?In addition to the cost, it usually also takes a couple of weeks to completely install.?

    Total Property Management, a large Provo property management company, declined to comment on the topic of their compliance with building regulations.

    Lisa Barker, from Orem-based Hidden Vale Management, said while it is difficult to keep properties updated, most landlords in general do their best to comply with city ordinances. If they don?t, it is probably because they either don?t realize the extent of their responsibilities or they are ignoring them, she said.

    The city will now pursue this building violation more aggressively.

    ?Right now we?re attacking the more obvious concerns and the more serious hazards in Provo residential areas,? Hugo said. ?We hope to eventually be able to expand our enforcement of these and other important building issues to all Provo renting establishments.?

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