The inspectors who enforce Nashville’s rules on building codes, property standards and short-term rentals are still struggling to keep up with the city’s growth despite repeated acknowledgements of difficulties at the Metro Codes Department.
But a new push is underway to hire more staff, with a large chunk of the funding to be covered by higher building permit fees.
“It’s very simple: they need more people,” said Councilwoman Courtney Johnston, who led the Metro Council’s Code Enforcement Special Committee and authored its report about the department.
The department is now reviewing larger and more complicated construction plans, inspections have jumped 37% since 2015 and regulating the short-term rental industry has become increasingly complicated.
Yet the fees that Codes charge haven’t changed, and staffing hasn’t kept pace, according to the report. Prior reports by WPLN show staffing is up 8% since 2016.
But a key change, this time, is that a new director at Metro Codes is being much more frank about how much help is needed. The department’s budget request seeks 10 more employees, which Johnston’s committee supports.
Codes is also moving to increase permit fees next month, which would help fund the positions. Metro Codes tends to more than pay for itself, averaging a $14 million contribution to the Metro General Fund over the past five years.
“We’re in a really difficult position, budget-wise — the fantastic part about this is [Codes staff] pay for themselves,” Johnston said.
The mayor’s proposed budget is due by March 31, when it will become clear if Codes will get additional staff.
Other Challenges Remain
The special committee did find a different urgent problem: Codes doesn’t have enough fleet vehicles (56) for every inspector (65). And much of the fleet is aging or over 100,000 miles, meaning lots of down time for maintenance.
So each day, two supervisors waste more than an hour deciding who gets a vehicle, while everyone waits, according to the report.
“While that sorting is taking place, the inspectors are confined to the office waiting to see if he/she will have a vehicle that day to perform inspections. There are countless inspection-hours lost each year in sorting vehicles,” the report reads.
“There’s a shuffle game every day … so it’s a little bit of a nightmare,” Johnston said.
Her committee recommends trying a rental fleet for six months. Codes was not immediately available to discuss that proposal.
Meanwhile, short-term rental properties continue to test Metro Codes. The department oversees more than 5,900 such properties — and estimates another 730 are operating illegally.
“Enforcement is hampered by the sheer volume … but also, the amount of ever-changing legislation approved to control them,” the report says.
The committee says Metro Codes would benefit by having two more inspectors, and suggests Metro should create a specific board to review short-term rental complaints, permit revocations and appeals.