It’s always sad to read about building inspectors who get caught up in the criminal justice system because they commit criminal acts. Los Angeles has a scandal going on because 2 building inspectors were arrested on suspicion of accepting bribes. The Los Angeles Times reports that 2 inspectors accepted $9,000 and $6,000 each from an undercover informant. The informant said that in some cases payment was the only way to avoid delays and to pass inspections. According to court documents, inspectors never even looked at the properties many times. More developments are expected because the informant said that the corruption was systemic.
When an inspector accepts a bribe, it raises the issue as to whether these properties contain dangerous conditions due to this type of corruption. Unfortunately, honest inspectors suffer a loss of respect in the eyes of the public due to this criminal activity.
Should lenders allow buyers to purchase a foreclosed building for less than what the lender can get for the property so the buyer has enough money left over to fix it up? That’s the question posed in an article in the Wall Street Journal, Tenants Turn to Lenders to Repair Buildings. Some housing groups are pressuring lenders to do this because it does no good for a building to change hands if the new owner can’t bring the property up to code. It’s a novel approach to the problem of deteriorating properties.
It’s not unusual for one agency to stumble upon evidence that would interest another department in the local jurisdiction. Firefighters in Columbia, Pennsylvania recently found a marijuana growing operation when they responded to a fire. Police investigated and found plants growing and bags of weed. The police have to be careful before they enter a building though. Unless it’s an emergency (and the destruction of drugs is not usually considered to be one), the police cannot enter a building without consent from the owner or occupant or without a search warrant. Just because an inspector has a right to be on the premises, doesn’t mean personnel from another agency can join him or her. The information uncovered by an inspector can be communicated to the police and used as the basis for a criminal search warrant.
Japan has suffered terribly from the recent earthquake but we will never know how many lives were saved because of the stringent building codes in that country. Unfortunately, not all countries have learned the lesson that if you live in an earthquake prone area, you should obey the local building code. In Quetta, Pakistan builders have been violating the local law by building tall buildings and complexes in violation of a court order. The city has no central building code authority and uses a building code established by Britain after 1935 and 1937 earthquakes. The city was near an earthquake in 2008 that resulted is many lives being lost.
In the past I’ve recommended books on the foreclosure crisis such as Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. Last night I finally got to see “Inside Job”, the film that won the Academy Award this year for best documentary. It methodically lays out how the problem developed, the nature of the crisis and the response by both government and Wall Street.
‘Inside Job’ provides a comprehensive analysis of the global financial crisis of 2008, which at a cost over $20 trillion, caused millions of people to lose their jobs and homes in the worst recession since the Great Depression, and nearly resulted in a global financial collapse. Through exhaustive research and extensive interviews with key financial insiders, politicians, journalists, and academics, the film traces the rise of a rogue industry which has corrupted politics, regulation, and academia.
It’s interesting that public employees are being blamed for the money woes in this country when the entire financial crisis was Robin Hood in reverse, steal from the poor (or middle class), and give to the rich. I encourage everyone to rent the DVD of this film so we keep our focus on the people and systems that brought this all about. If we don’t, we will find ourselves in the same situation in the future. Charles Ferguson, the director, said, when accepting the Academy Award, that none of the people in the film have been indicted and no one’s gone to prison. After watching the movie, you’re going to ask “why not ?”
One of the most difficult situations I deal with as a prosecutor is trying to find someone to take responsibility for a property where it is in foreclosure, the owners have abandoned the building and the lender fails or refuses to complete the foreclosure process. Some nonprofit organizations are stepping in under those circumstances and using state laws on abandoned properties to take them over, fix them up and then sell them. One such organization is featured in an article in the Huffington Post. Unfortunately, in some states, the waiting period for action is lengthy. While the clock is running, the property continues to deteriorate. It is shocking to me that legislatures fail to address the problems these derelict properties create for communities and local government. Far too often state law protects lenders from having to take possession of these properties and maintain them prior to the foreclosure judgment even though the owners are no longer around and the mortgage document gives the lender the right to ask for possession. These nonprofits that take on this difficult task should be applauded for their efforts but there aren’t enough of them to make a dent in this horrendous problem.
The New York Times has a story about a new website that tracks slum landlords in New York city. Tenants can find out about any landlord’s portfolio by clicking a link, “NYC’s worst landlords,” on the apartment search pages on Craigslist