Immediately Address 'Exigent' Health and Safety Hazards to Keep Site Compliant
During an inspection, Real Estate Assessment Center (REAC) inspectors look at specific areas of the site for health and safety hazards. Most of these hazards can cost you points on your inspection score but don’t necessarily subject you to other, more serious penalties.
But some health and safety hazards are considered so dangerous that HUD requires you to take steps to correct these hazards immediately and certify within three days that you’ve done so. HUD calls these types of life-threatening hazards “exigent health and safety hazards” because of the urgent need to correct them in view of the risk of physical injury and death that they pose.
To ensure consistent evaluation of a site’s physical condition, your state agency may have adopted REAC protocol’s definitions of physical deficiencies. These definitions are used when agencies’ have adopted UPCS standards to determine whether noncompliance has occurred. The dictionary is divided into six sections:
- Site Inspection
- Building Exterior Inspectable Items
- Building Systems Inspectable Items
- Common Areas Inspectable Items
- Unit Inspectable Items
- Health and Safety Inspectable Items
Each section identifies specific components, which are then defined in ascending levels of severity (level 1, level 2, or level 3), and a fourth category is health and safety hazards and fire safety hazards. All levels of deficiencies must be reported. Health and safety violations can be divided into non-life-threatening and exigent, life-threatening conditions.
Non-life-threatening events include items such as pavement and walkway problems that create the potential for tripping and falling; missing or non-functioning sinks and bathroom components in individual units that impair human sanitation; missing exterior doors; and floor covering damage.
Exigent health and safety and fire hazards, on the other hand, require immediate attention because of their life-threatening potential. In addition to making your site noncompliant, these types of hazards expose you to fines from local safety authorities. And these hazards can also put you at risk of lawsuits if residents or others are injured by these dangerous conditions. Residents may also withhold rent until you fix the hazards.
What Conditions Are Exigent Health and Safety Hazards?
During an inspection, REAC inspectors look at eight categories of health and safety hazards: air quality, electrical, elevator, emergency and fire exits, flammable materials, garbage and debris, infestation, and physical hazards. Within these eight categories, there are 13 types of conditions that HUD considers to be exigent. These are:
- Missing electrical outlets and switches;
- Missing or broken cover plates for electrical outlets or switches;
- Missing circuit breakers on electrical panels or boxes;
- Missing covers for electrical panels or boxes;
- Water leaks on or near electrical equipment;
- Missing or inoperable smoke detectors;
- Missing, damaged, or expired fire extinguishers;
- Blocked or unusable emergency or fire exits;
- Visibly missing components of fire escapes;
- Security bars preventing exit through windows;
- Misaligned flue or ventilation systems on water heaters;
- Misaligned flue or ventilation systems on HVAC systems; and
- Detection of propane, natural, or methane gas.
If an inspector cites you for an exigent health and safety hazard, you should repair the hazard immediately. HUD rules require you to repair all exigent health and safety hazards immediately, if possible, but no later than three business days after the inspection. Once an inspector finishes an inspection, the inspection software summarizes all exigent health and safety hazards into one report, which the inspector will give you in writing (called a Notification of Exigent and Fire Safety Hazards).
It’s important to repair each hazard properly. For instance, if you’re cited for open electrical panels, the proper way to repair this type of hazard is to insert a circuit breaker, a fuse, or a blank plastic insert made by the proper panel manufacturer. But some sites have tried to fix this type of hazard in improper ways—for example, by covering the slots with electrical or duct tape or gluing inappropriate material over the slots. If you don’t repair the hazard properly, REAC won’t consider it corrected.
And you must use the right person to make the repair. For example, your maintenance staff can change the battery on a smoke detector. But you may need to hire a trained contractor to repair gas leaks or electrical hazards.
To make sure you repair each hazard properly, go over the exigent health and safety report with the inspector to find out what repairs would put the cited hazard in acceptable condition. Then determine whether your staff has the expertise to make these repairs or whether you need to hire an outside contractor.