When dealing with unsafe buildings, code inspectors shouldn’t forget to consider whether criminal charges might be appropriate. A builder in Pennsylvania was recently charged with theft, deceptive practices and other related offenses. Montgomery Media reported that:
“According to articles in a local daily newspaper, the breadth of shoddy workmanship was staggering: The building had exposed electrical wiring, fire escape stairwells built of wood instead of the required steel, stair landings were constructed of particle board, the sprinkler system was inoperable, concrete block walls held together solely by mortar joints, and a garage wall had cracked concrete blocks, and other structural deficiencies were found by inspectors.” http://www.montgomerynews.com/articles/2010/10/27/springford_reporter_valley_item/news/doc4cc1fe499a784668359492.txt
In criminal cases, the judge can set specific requirements as a condition of probation that may aid the inspector in getting compliance with the code.
The Chicago Tribune had an informative article on the problem of half-built residences and the effect on neighborhoods on Sunday. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2010-10-16/news/ct-met-half-built-houses-20101016_1_half-built-homes-construction-site-property-values We’ve been struggling with the problem for over 2 years now with spotty success. The homes are half-built because the contractor or homeowner ran out of money and can’t get a new loan. Many of the properties are in foreclosure. Sometimes we’ve been able to get the exterior of the building finished so the house looks like it’s occupied even if the interior is not. Usually though we have to wait until the lender takes possession so that we have someone with resources to do something. Another option is to file an action for demolition if the property is unsafe or unsound after being open to the elements though the local jurisdiction has to be willing to spend legal fees on such a lawsuit. Once the building permit expires, I’ve been using the property maintenance code for enforcement. I’ve been arguing that once there is no construction going on, the structure is an “existing structure” of some type and, therefore, subject to the IPMC. Another approach is to declare an unfinished building a nuisance under the local nuisance ordinance and then order that the nuisance be abated. However, the lack of financial resources may make this impossible for the current owner.
There’s been a lot of press coverage about the mess in foreclosure land because many of the affidavits filed to support foreclosure actions were signed by people who had no actual knowledge about the mortgage documents. Because of this, many of the banks have stopped proceeding on foreclosure actions until this issue is resolved. The Wall Street Journal has an informative story about this latest embarassment to the mortgage industry at http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704049904575554372238256744.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_LEFTTopStories This is not good news for local jurisdictions who have been waiting for distressed properties to be taken back by the bank. I’ve seen properties where the owners have abandoned the property or don’t have the funds for the upkeep. I’ve sometimes advised clients to be patient and wait for the sheriff’s sale so we can send a notice of violation to the lender once it is in possession. With these delays, it means many properties will continue to deteriorate even more.