In my last couple of Tweets, I pointed inspectors to articles involving the explosion of the fertilizer plant in West Texas and a tragic fire in England. It’s a shame we wait until people die before there is interest in better prevention and regulation. It’s human nature to cut corners to save money which is why we need consistent oversight to prevent these foreseeable tragedies. After these terrible events which catch the attention of the public, we always see a flurry of enforcement but eventually that fades until the next preventable occurrence. These are opportunities though to educate the public and why safety inspections are so important.
The Illinois Association of Code Enforcement group does a lot of informative programming for its members. Recently I had the pleasure of attending a day of training and learning more about Compliance Connections which is a division of Safeguard, one of the largest service companies that take care of properties for lenders. I first wrote about Compliance Connections last year after learning about it from inspectors in Minnesota. Everyone has a horror story about the lack of involvement by lenders and service companies used by them but I think some real progress has been made recently. The inspectors I work with have had success using this website (which is a free service) to get grass cut or trash removed. However, the company only addresses vacant property issues due to potential litigation with property owners so there are restriction. In addition, privacy laws sometime restrict service companies from contacting inspectors when a problem with the property arises.
Inspectors can use Compliance Connections to notify a servicer about problems on the property. Compliance Connections should respond and the inspector will get notified about a plan for correction as well as the lender. It can also be used to send information on outstanding bills (e.g. for cutting weeds) so that the municipality gets paid.
The speaker, Heather Lazar (phone 1-800-852-8306 x 1500) encouraged inspectors to report contractors to Safeguard who violate local ordinances by working without the proper permits. Safeguard doesn’t actually do the work required but relies on local contractors. If a contractor doesn’t follow Safeguard’s rules, the company may be excluded from future work. Other people to contact when there is an issue using Compliance Connections are Michael Halpern 1-800-852-8306 x 1392 and David Mazanek 800-852-8306 x 1261.
Safeguard will pay for 8 scholarships for inspectors to the AACE conference in Oklahoma City, OK which starts October 30, 2013.
One of the inspectors I work with shared this with me about contact information for a property management company taking care of properties for HUD.
HUD has established a contract with PK Management Group c/o Prescient, Inc. to do property management of all HUD properties. The Florida office contact number is 305-854-1711.
I hope this will be useful to you. I have been preoccupied lately with planning to move my office. I will let my readers know all of the particulars as the time gets closer. The contact information will hopefully remain the same.
Recently I was interviewed by MSN Real Estate for an article on working without a permit. The article just appeared online entitled “When Homeowners Go Rogue”. It’s a very thorough article about the dangers of working without a permit, hiring unlicensed contractors or failing to research a property before buying it. Much of the article is based on my interview with Marilyn Lewis, the author, and it mentions my book, “The Building Process Simplified”. It may be a worthwhile article to disseminate to the public in your local jurisdiction.
Given the technology that is all around us, an inspector needs to act as if everything he or she does is being videotaped. Unfortunately one inspector in Largo, Florida didn’t follow this rule and ended up getting caught by an owner’s surveillance camera. It shows the inspector walking right past a ladder. His boss said he was “counseled” regarding this way of inspecting but no other steps were taken to discipline him according to a report by NBC Channel 8 in Tampa Bay.
When the chief building inspector went to the property, he found numerous deficiencies with the roof. The public responded by arguing that cities just want the permit revenue but don’t want to spend time doing quality inspections. This is very bad publicity because we justify what we do by asserting public safety. You can watch the video by following the link.
Morristown N.Y. recently settled a case with the Amish community over failure to follow the local building code. The Amish had contended they did not need to adhere to the code because of First Amendment freedom of religion considerations. However, they ultimately worked out an agreement whereby criminal charges were dropped. The town recognized that certain building techniques met the code and the Amish agreed not to use other ones that were not deemed proper. Inspectors would install smoke detectors but there would be no enforcement subsequent to the installation. Amish communities are actually growing in the United States. The Washington Times reported that other disputes have arisen in the past with Amish communities over codes but usually it involves waste disposal and outhouses. This is the first time I have heard of the First Amendment being a defense to a building code. I’d be interested to hear if any readers have experience with this issue.
Santa Barbara is a wonderful place for a code training. I was lucky enough to be invited by the California County Building Offiicials Association to teach Legal Aspects of Code Administration on September 24th. I really enjoy traveling around the country because I learn so much. One of the big problems the building officials are facing in California are houses used for growing marijuana. There are a lot of mom and pop operations because of California’s approach to medical marijuana. Some unscrupulous individuals rent vacant houses, never letting on that they are not going to live in the house, and then fill it with plants. The electrical system is compromised with all of the power needed for such an operation and the owner is left with a big mess when the perpetrator moves on or is arrested. I wonder if anyone has ever used the zoning ordinances to prosecute anyone for illegal home occupation?
One of my pet peeves are building permits that don’t have a set expiration date. Most of the building codes have their permits expire 180 days after no work is done. However, this leaves open the potential for a permit to last a long time. For example, if a person pounds in a couple of nails every other month, it would be tough to prove in court that the permit expired. Recently, inspectors in my area did a survey to see what various jurisdictions did with permit expirations. I particularly liked Crystal Lake, IL’s approach. A permit for commercial construction lasts 1 year and a residential one lasts 6 months. In addition, there is a provision for a special permit with specific conditions. That would be very useful in a situation where a builder has been remiss in moving a project along. Recently, I had a case where as a condition of a sentence, the defendant agreed to a timeline of construction. It was not part of the permit because there was no provision for such a thing. It would have been helpful if the permit could have been issued with specific deadlines. The Crystal Lake ordinance also has provisions for extensions. I would rather see a set expiration date with a possibility of an extension rather than have to guess when a permit expired.
A recent article by an insurance group discusses how important it is to enforce tough building codes. As an example, it uses Hurricane Andrew. Insurance companies like tough enforcement because it saves the industry money. On a more personal level, it decreases the amount of destruction done to people’s homes and property by major weather events.
Multiple studies have been conducted which demonstrate the positive impact of modern, engineering- based building codes on the performance of residential homes during a severe high-wind event. Among them are: an IBHS study conducted following Hurricane Charley (2004); it found that adoption and enforcement of modern building codes reduced the severity of residential property claims by 42% and the number of residential property claims by 60%; and,
• a study commissioned by the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies (NAMIC), which found that, if states in hurricane-prone areas had begun adopting and enforcing modern building codes in 1988, wind-related property losses could have been reduced by nearly $13 billion dollars.
Unfortunately, not all states have adopted minimum standards. The question is, why not?