This article in the Wall Street Journal describes a scenario we’ve been seeing recently, owner occupied property in distant suburbs turning into rental neighborhoods. It’s entitled, In the Exurbs, the American Dream is Up for Rent. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123845433832571407.html
Local governments need to be ready for this change by adopting rental inspection programs that includes single family homes. By making sure that minimum standards are met from the beginning of this changeover, cities and towns can take steps to make sure that these rental properties don’t have an adverse effect on the quality of life in those communities.
At the airport in San Francisco yesterday while waiting for my flight, I read this in the San Francisco Chronicle:
The Bay Area reached a peak median sales price of $720,000 in spring 2007. In February, the median was $295,000. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/29/MN3K16M9RT.DTL&hw=median+house+values&sn=001&sc=1000
The article went on to discuss how buyers, especially investors are now moving in to purchase these “bargain” properties. Some are doing it to rent them and others are doing it to flip them. I wonder how many of these new buyers are getting the right permits for the work they are doing or properly registering the rentals in those jurisdictions where it’s mandatory? I suspect we’ll be seeing those kinds of issues crop up for a long time.
Too often political considerations interfere with the ability of building code officials to do their jobs in an appropriate manner. Most of the time this type of behavior goes unpunished. It often consists of not enforcing the code against “protected” person or companies or harshly enforcing the code against opponents. Sometimes, however, an aggrieved party files a lawsuit against the offenders. This happened in Dorr v. City of Ecorse, 2008 WL 5397760(C.A. 6 (Mich.))(2008) when a property owner sued the city and its mayor for the denial of a certificate of occupancy under the Civil Rights Acts. The plaintiff and the mayor were neighbors with a contentious history. The plaintiff passed all the necessary inspections and was entitled to a certificate of occupancy for a garage extension. He was trying to sell his house but couldn’t with the certificate. The city repeatedly refused to issue it and the plaintiff was unable to close on a house because of this inaction. The federal court of appeals agreed with the plaintiff that he had been denied substantive due process and upheld the award of $22,000 in damages, $55,000 in punitive damages against the mayor and $27,975.00 in attorney’s fees. (Punitive damages would come out of the mayor’s pocket). This case serves as a cautionary tale for those who would use the building code as a weapon.
While exploring the Safeguard website because of Kelly Anbach’s comments, I found that it had a list of contact information for lender’s servicers. I’m not sure how up to date it is but you can find it at: http://www.safeguardproperties.com/content/view/1133/233/ The list was developed by the Mortgage Bankers Association. Maybe it will give inspectors a way to make contact with a real person who can take action on a property. On the same page is an Excel file of contacts at local governments. It might be worthwhile to get on the list.
Last week I had the pleasure of teaching Legal Aspects of Code Enforcement for the Huron Valley Association of Code Officials. They were a wonderful audience, and very forgiving since I was teaching with a nasty cold. On the plane ride home, I hit the wall with congestion and fatigue and asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” I have to admit that I enjoy the interaction and energy that exists when I’m teaching something people really want to hear. When I see people madly taking notes, I assume it’s because what I have to say has value to them. What keeps me going is knowing how many people are hungry for ideas on how to do their jobs better and more effectively. I’ve been fortunate in my practice to learn a great deal from the cases I’ve prosecuted during my career and from the inspectors with whom I work. That experience has helped me gain the expertise I need to get better results for my clients. However, there’s a limit to how helpful I can be as a prosecutor because I can’t prosecute cases 500 miles from home. But, by teaching I can share ideas and techniques with code officials and inspectors all over the country. If they decide to buy my books, my expertise is available to them on a daily basis. I get a kick out of hearing anecdotes from inspectors about something I’ve said in class that really made a difference to them on the job. Because of the foreclosure crisis, we are all facing enormous challenges in our communities and on the job. Everyone has to play a part in seeing this through. I intend to keep teaching and writing as long as I have something to offer.
My first position after law school was as an assistant state’s attorney where my entire training revolved around criminal law enforcement. When I left the State’s Attorney’s office, I began prosecuting municipal ordinances which included building codes. At first I just saw them as minor cases to process but after awhile I began to see the connection between enforcing building codes and keeping crime rates low, especially in apartment complexes. Fixing lights in a parking lot reduced drug dealing on a premises better than a team of police officers. Forcing landlords to spend money on repairs made them more motivated to crack down on tenants who were trashing a building. Over the years I’ve noticed a strong correlation between vigorous code enforcement and a reduction in police calls. Just getting junk vehicles towed from a parking lot makes the tenants happier with their surroundings. Unfortunately, sometimes those in leadership in law enforcement fail to see the connection and are reluctant to spend resources assisting building code departments. This is shortsighted. The code enforcement department can be a great resource for the police department and vice versa. Police personnel get into residences all of the time on police calls and can be the eyes of the code department. Code enforcement inspectors who are properly trained may see things inside a building that may be beneficial for the police department. The local jurisdictions that recognize this relationship are the ones most successful in reducing crime in a neighborhood. Now there is even scientific evidence for the “broken windows” theory, conducted by a university in the Netherlands. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27825380/from/ET/#storyContinued Blighted conditions have an effect on the behavior of the people in those communities. Code enforcement is an integral component of any effort to control and contain crime.