HUD Releases Final NSPIRE Inspection Standards
Notice marks first comprehensive overhaul of inspection standards in 20 years.
HUD recently announced the pending publication of the Final Inspection Standards Notice for the National Standards for the Physical Inspection of Real Estate (NSPIRE) in the Federal Register. This notice follows the NSPIRE final rule published in May and is one of three core subordinate notices that, once published, combined with the NSPIRE final rule, make up HUD’s regulatory guidance for physical condition standards and inspection processes. HUD intends to publish the two remaining subordinate notices, the final Scoring and the Administrative Notices, this summer.
With the implementation of NSPIRE, the Housing Quality Standards (HQS) and the Uniform Physical Condition Standards (UPCS), the current inspection protocols for the LIHTC program, will be retired and the inspection standards for monitoring will become NSPIRE. These NSPIRE final inspection standards represent HUD’s years-long effort to consolidate and align housing quality requirements and associated inspection standards across programs.
The NSPIRE Standards were tested during the NSPIRE Demonstration Program and were opened for public comment on June 17, 2022. The final standards are published with changes considering feedback HUD received and additional testing in the field during the NSPIRE Demonstration. We’ll go over how HUD intends to update the standards over time, and we’ll highlight the changes and clarifications to the proposed June 2022 inspection standards made in the final standards.
Future Updates to Inspection Standards
HUD intends to update the inspection standards every three years, with an opportunity for public comment each time. HUD says the new three-year notice review cycle allows HUD to be more responsive to evolving industry standards. This will provide further opportunities for the public to examine proposed changes, provide pertinent comments, and propose changes at regular intervals.
Health and Safety Categories
The notice makes the following revisions to the Health and Safety category titles:
- The “Severe Non-Life-Threatening” category is now titled “Severe”;
- The “Standard” category is now titled “Moderate”; and
- The “N/A” or “Advisory” category is now titled “Low.”
Originally, HUD intended "Advisory" deficiencies to act as warnings to owners of issues that may become a "Moderate" deficiency if left unaddressed and the "Advisory" deficiencies didn’t have a correction time frame. However, HUD has now determined that these deficiencies still represent conditions that should be repaired, and therefore “Advisory” was renamed “Low” and HUD will impose a relatively small point scoring deduction for "Low" deficiencies. In the final standards, HUD also added a 60-day correction time frame to these deficiencies.
In addition, for the Infestation, Mold-Like Substance, and Potential Lead-Based Paint Hazards – Visual Assessment Standards, there are deficiencies that are scored at the life-threatening level point deduction, despite being defined in the Severe Health and Safety category. These Severe Health and Safety Deficiencies don’t present risks consistent with the Life-Threatening definition, but they do present chronic health risks that are distinct from the other Severe Health and Safety Deficiencies. This chronic health risk category is a sub-category to be used for scoring and doesn’t define an additional risk ranking or correction time frame.
Changes and Clarifications
After considering comments received on the proposed NSPIRE Standards notice, HUD has made some major changes and is publishing the Final Standards Notice. Here’s a summary of the changes:
Smoke alarms. NSPIRE requires the installation of fire alarms on each level and inside each sleeping area. This is aligned with other fire code standards. The NSPIRE Smoke Alarm Standard doesn’t require that the smoke alarm have a sealed battery. However, on Dec. 29, 2024, the effective date of the Public and Federally Assisted Housing Fire Safety Act of 2022, sealed batteries will be required.
Carbon monoxide alarms. The Carbon Monoxide standard incorporates the legal requirements for HUD housing to contain carbon monoxide detectors in compliance with Chapters 9 and 11 of the 2018 International Fire Code (IFC). The Final NSPIRE Rule requires compliance with HUD carbon monoxide standards in both the inside area and the unit. In most circumstances, CO detectors will be required only if a fuel-burning appliance or fireplace is directly attached to or within the unit or if an unventilated garage is attached to the unit. If there is an attached, unventilated garage, CO detectors are required, even if there isn’t a fuel-burning appliance or fuel-burning fireplace in the unit or building.
Door – Entry. The severity level for unit entry doors has been elevated to “life-threatening.” Although a unit entry door may not be a fire-labeled door, it may still offer some level of protection from fire and smoke during a fire. The presence of a non-fire-labeled unit entry door provides residents with an opportunity to shelter in place while a fire is extinguished or to be rescued by emergency personnel. The health and safety risk to a resident occupying a unit missing an entry door during a fire could rise to the level of life-threatening. Additionally, a missing unit entry door may negatively affect the physical safety and security of residents.
Egress. The deficiency criteria have been changed by requiring bedroom window egress only for units in the building’s third level and below, and living room windows aren’t considered egress for the purposes of this standard unless there’s a fire escape present.
Electrical – Conductor. Given that a missing lightbulb hasn’t been identified as a systemic safety concern in the most recent research in residential electrical safety, a missing light bulb won’t be cited as an exposed conductor. However, a missing light bulb may be cited under the Lighting – Interior Standard as an inoperable fixture if a light bulb isn’t installed during the inspection to demonstrate the fixture is in proper working condition.
Electrical – Outlet and Switch Standard, Conductor. The Electrical – Outlet and Switch Standard and the Electrical – Conductor Standard, which were separate in the proposed standards, have been combined into one standard for the Final NSPIRE Standards. A deficiency has been added to that final standard, “Water is currently in contact with an electrical conductor,” due to the shock and fire risks associated with this condition.
Leaks. HUD agrees with concerns that a “Leak” deficiency in the “Electrical – Conductor” Standard, remnant water stains (and not active leaks), may be cited as a deficiency. It also notes that certain electronic components are designed to be used in wet locations. Only active leaks are to be cited, and leaks near a component confirmed to be waterproof won’t be cited. HUD clarifies that a leak cited under this deficiency won’t also be cited under the “Leak” deficiency elsewhere in NSPIRE.
Fire Labeled Doors. The Fire Labeled Door Standard includes deficiency criteria specific to these types of doors if they’re present in a building, although such doors aren’t required by NSPIRE. Fire Doors that are present will be inspected under NSPIRE and where present must operate effectively to reduce risk of death or injury.
Graffiti. The Graffiti Standard has been removed. Graffiti doesn’t have a clear health and safety risk and HUD has reviewed this standard and believes that it’s unnecessary and therefore is removing it from the NSPIRE Standards.
Guardrails. The Guardrail Standard includes deficiency criteria for guardrails. The installation of guardrails will be required where these are missing above elevated surfaces to protect from fall hazards along balconies, stairs, ramps, decks, rooftops, hallways, retaining walls, and other walking surfaces. HUD believes that guardrails are essential to resident safety.
Infestation. While some infestations would be expected to have severe impacts on the health and safety of the resident, pest infestations are not documented to be life-threatening under the NSPIRE definition, meaning they don’t present “a high risk of death to the resident.” HUD confirms that initiation of an appropriate pest management plan meets the requirement for correction, with the understanding that, while pests may still be present at the start of the pest management plan, they will be managed through the plan. Ongoing implementation of an appropriate pest management plan documented and initiated prior to the inspection will also satisfy this condition.
Within the correction time frame, documentation must be provided for the pest management plan, and this documentation must include: start date of the plan; servicing schedule; methods of pest monitoring, managing and treatment; and other factors as determined by HUD, the PHA, and/or other relevant authority. An Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan is strongly encouraged. An IPM uses prevention-based pest management methods, with a focus on:
- Identifying and correcting building conditions that contribute to infestation.
- Reducing the use of pesticides, especially routine or untargeted pesticide application.
- Modification of hygiene and sanitation practices in and on the property.
- Assessment and ongoing monitoring to assure appropriate interventions as needed.
Additional pest species not listed in the standard, including ants, spiders, fleas, raccoons, squirrels, and snakes, or any pest with potential impacts on resident health and safety, would constitute evidence of an infestation and therefore be counted as a deficiency. The presence of rats, mice, cockroaches, and bed bugs specifically are each identified as separate deficiencies because they are common forms of infestation that present certain health risks and challenges that HUD wishes to identify specifically. This isn’t a complete list of pests; additional pests are noted in the “other pests” deficiency of the Infestation Standard.
Mold-like substance. This standard includes deficiencies based on levels of observed conditions and a ventilation or dehumidification requirement for bathrooms to reduce conditions conducive to mold growth. The deficiency “Presence of mold-like at very low levels is observed visually” has been removed. HUD agrees that certain mold-like substance conditions should be considered life-threatening, but only “Presence of Mold-like Substance at extremely high levels in the Unit” is considered a life-threatening deficiency.
The ventilation deficiency in this includes a requirement for mechanical ventilation, a window (in the bathroom), or a dehumidifier. HUD isn’t requiring a specific means of reducing humidity in a bathroom. This requirement may be met by one or more of the methods listed above. However, other means may also be employed to reduce the humidity below levels conducive to mold growth.
Potential lead-based paint hazards visual assessment. This standard includes a deficiency that requires an enhanced visual assessment for deteriorated paint where there is a child under 6 years of age residing in the unit. An administrative notice will include updated inspection processes for this standard.
Sprinkler assembly. Small flecks of paint won’t be cited as a deficiency in this standard. Corrosion has been added as a separate deficiency.
Structural system. This standard includes a deficiency that captures signs of serious structural collapse and may threaten resident safety. UPCS and HQS had serious structural deficiencies that were spread across the various building components. NSPIRE combines them into a single standard. NSPIRE inspectors won’t be making structural stability assessments and would receive training as to when to refer potential structural systems issues to an appropriately trained individual.
Address and signage. HUD believes that adequate property address signage is essential to resident safety, to assure that emergency services can quickly and efficiently find sites within a property, and therefore adequate signage is critical to the NSPIRE inspection process and will be required to be installed if not present.
Electrical – GFCI or AFCI – Outlet or Breaker. HUD believes that Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI) or Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) are essential to resident safety to prevent death and injury, and therefore GFCIs are required in the NSPIRE inspection.
Fire extinguishers. Tenant-owned fire extinguishers won’t be inspected under NSPIRE.
Window. If window screens are present and are damaged, this is an NSPIRE Deficiency. Having window screens isn’t required. However, if window screens are present, they must be functional, and if there’s evidence that window screens were previously installed in a location, the window screen must be present.
Playgrounds. There are no standards for playgrounds in NSPIRE. Though not specifically limited to playgrounds, there are current NSPIRE Standards that apply to playgrounds. For example, Trip Hazard and Sharp Edges would apply to playgrounds.
Overgrown vegetation. There is no overgrown vegetation deficiency or standard in NSPIRE. However, if the overgrown vegetation is causing another NSPIRE deficiency, for example by damaging roofing or siding materials, it must be addressed. Also, vegetation management may be a component of an Integrated Pest Management plan.
Interim repairs. NSPIRE allows that there may be interim repairs that remove a health and safety hazard even though those repairs aren’t permanent. For example, a missing GFCI can have an interim repair such as a blank cover plate. Such interim repairs must be fully repaired within a reasonable time frame approved by HUD or a designee. Interim repairs aren’t required to be aesthetically pleasing or conforming to other aspects of the building, but if the interim repair effectively removes the health and safety hazard until the full repair is performed and if the full repair is completed within the required time frame, then the interim repair is acceptable under NSPIRE. If the interim repair is implemented before the inspection, the timeline for full repair begins at the time of inspection, without regard to the time of the initial, pre-inspection implementation of the interim repair.
“Safe” drinking water. HUD won’t inspect for water quality. The NSPIRE safe drinking water component will entail only:
- Visual inspection for lead service lines; and
- Assessment (via an information request, not physical inspection) if there has been a water outage or water alert and the response if an outage or alert has occurred.
This is solely for the purpose of data collection and won’t be scored. This will be covered in more detail in an administrative notice. HUD believes that adequate levels of technical proficiency can be achieved with appropriate training.
Heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). HUD will require permanent heating sources in all locales except for the tropical locations of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, U.S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.
Permanently installed heating source. The inspection requirements are applicable at the time of inspection regardless of the time of year. While the NSPIRE inspection might not be performed at a time of the year when the resident would require heating, adequate heat in the dwelling must be available when required, even if that inspection isn’t performed when heating would be required in the dwelling.
Definition of permanently installed heating source. HUD notes that a permanent heating source should be neither temporary nor portable and should be directly wired to the building’s power source. Permanent Heating Sources should include central systems, baseboard heating, and permanently affixed in-wall units. They should not include cooking appliances or portable heaters. A power source on a dedicated breaker is a part of the definition. Additionally, a fireplace wouldn’t be considered a permanent heating source.
Unvented, fuel-burning space heaters. HUD acknowledges that tenants may use their own space heaters. HUD reiterates the critical health and safety risk of unvented fuel-burning space heaters and emphasizes the prohibition of unvented space heaters.