NEW ORLEAN'S controversial emergency ordinance allowing owners of residential properties to waive city electrical inspections expired July 31, but three days later the city council voted to extend the measure until Dec. 31, 2006.

The ordinance applies to single-family structures and multifamily dwellings up to fourplex units; it excludes apartments and commercial buildings. Under its provisions, a property owner may file an affidavit with the city to have electrical work inspected by a licensed electrician, rather than a city inspector.

The inspecting electrician then files a form with the city certifying the property is safe to be reconnected to power, and the electrical company is authorized to restore service.

Passed early this year, the stated purpose of the measure is to expedite connection of electrical service to homes repaired or rebuilt after damage from Hurricane Katrina and the flooding that followed.

Representatives of the electrical industry expressed concern that compromising electrical inspections raises serious safety issues as well as opportunities for numerous abuses. One danger is that improperly inspected buildings could contain water-damaged wiring and electrical components that were not identified and replaced.

New Orleans NBC-affiliate WDSU-TV carried a special report recently on the subject and in July, New Orleans CityBusiness newspaper documented that the ordinance has resulted in numerous abuses with more than 30 contractors barred from submitting inspection certifications in the future. Sources close to the situation say that number has increased since the New Orleans CityBusiness article.

The New Orleans mayor’s office of communications did not respond to telephone and e-mail requests to comment about extension of the ordinance and problems related to improper inspections (see related article "Katrina Retrospective" for more analysis of the ordinance).  EC