There have been too many deadly fires this past week and the one factor they have in common is that each of the buildings had preexisting code violations. The fire in Chicago in which 2 firefighters died after a building collapsed demonstrated the hazard of vacant buildings. Eight squatters died in a fire in New Orleans in a building that had been cited for structural violations in 2007. In Yonkers, N.Y. a man died in a residence that had been illegally converted into multiple dwellings, including a basement apartment. It was reported at LoHud.com that:
The day after the fire, city inspectors visited the property and issued four summonses against the Walshes for illegally converting their basement into an apartment, illegally using the first floor of their two-family home as a boarding house and blocking fire exits, among other violations.
Owners often get angry at building and housing code inspectors because they feel the inspectors are interfering with their ability to use their property as they desire and because compliance with the code costs them money. Tragedies like these demonstrate why we have codes and why strict enforcement is necessary.
I just finished reading a terrific book about the economic crisis which I’m recommending to everyone who wants to understand why we’re in such bad shape. It’s The Big Short by Michael Lewis. It helped me understand why such terrible housing loans were made by the financial sector. The lenders never expected to be paid back on these subprime loans. The way to make money was to sell them, trade them, bet against them, and then, when there weren’t enough loans to do that with, create “synthetic collaterial debt obligations” to sell, trade and bet against. It seems like hardly anyone expected to make money collecting payments from homeowners. It also showed me how there’s no correlation between the huge amounts of money made by people on Wall Street and their competence. People are still making money off of the crisis and in one article I read, the investor is actually helping homeowners. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704720004575377022447064474.html?mod=WSJ_hpp_MIDDLETopStories The investor buys loans for a cheap price and he then offers the homeowners a reduction of the principle on their loans so they can remain in their homes. He can afford to do so because he’s buying loans for 50 cents on dollar and then charging the homeowners 70 cents on the dollar. One can only hope that 2011 will be a better year where people use all of their creative ability for good and not for greed.
Building officials do not enforce homeowners’ association deed restrictions. A deed restriction is a private agreement between a homeowner and the association connected with the development. For example, many associations have restrictions on fences, swimming pools and other outdoor structures. It is conceivable that a person could apply for a permit to build something in violation of the deed restrictions (also known as restrictive covenants) and be entitled to such a permit. The building official should let the applicant know that such a restriction exists if the official is aware of it but ultimately, it’s up to the applicant as to whether he or she wishes to proceed. However, if the structure is built in violation of the building code, the building official can enforce that violation. The remedy for a violation of a deed restriction is a lawsuit between the association and the homeowner, such as occurred in Horn v. Huffman, 2010 WL 1404414. In that case, a homeowner knowingly violated a deed restriction by building an above ground swimming pool contrary to the deed restrictions document. The homeowners’ association brought a lawsuit to enforce the restriction which was the proper course of action.
Without commenting on the viewpoint of the creator, here’s a video of some interesting construction, like the house with a fire plug blocking the driveway:
Citizens who normally couldn’t gain the attention of anyone when they can’t get the attention of their representatives can go directly to the public by making their own films and posting them on You Tube.
It’s been so sad reading about the 2 firefighters who died in Chicago when the roof of a boarded up building collapsed on Wednesday. The owner had been cited for numerous code violations in 2007, especially for the roof. The building was boarded up but squatters kept breaking in. The firefighters were inside the building checking for people when this happened. The reason for the collapse of the roof has not yet been determined. Too many of these neglected buildings present a hazard for emergency responders. Owners claim they don’t have enough money to fix the buildings and it can take years for the courts to order them demolished. I know I keep preaching to the choir but these buildings don’t get in this type of shape overnight. Minor violations need to be addressed before they become big ones. It cost less to keep a property up than it does to bring it back from the abyss of deterioration.
It’s that time of year when tenants are shivering in apartments because the heat does not reach the temperature required by the code. When an inspector has such a case, It’s important to correctly measure the temperature so that the case stands up in court. If you are using the 2009 International Property Maintenance code, you must follow Section 602.5 which states that
“The required room temperatures shall be measured 3 feet (914 mm) above the floor near the center of the room and 2 feet (610 mm) inward from the center of each exterior wall.”
Because of the word “shall”, it is mandatory and temperatures not taken this way may be inadmissible as evidence. A landlord in Brownsville, PA is facing fines of $200 to $1000 per day because of a lack of heat in an apartment building. That will usually encourage compliance but for the tenants who have to wait for the repairs to be completed, it’s never soon enough.
Justin said that a pipe had burst last January, gushing enough scalding water to turn the bathroom into a mold-filled, 24-hour steam room. Water damage had wrecked the floors. They were so rotted that you could dip your arm up to your elbow into the floorboard below the toilet. Meanwhile, huge chunks of the ceiling were missing, and you could see into the rafters above. I thought about Justin getting ready for school in the mornings. How did he take a shower?
It’s a sad reminder that without vigorous code enforcement, buildings deteriorate and people suffer. To think that a family would be better off in a shelter than in one of these buildings is tragic. Housing inspectors who make life better for people who are tenants should be proud of the work they do.
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