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.
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?
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?
A very important decision has just come down from the Court of Appeals of Minnesota involving the constitutionality of rental inspections. The case is McCaughtry v. City of Red Wing, 2012 WL 2077191, 2012. Landlords and tenants challenged the rental property inspection ordinance of the City of Red Wing which allowed inspections of property even if there was no evidence of a violation as long as inspectors obtained an administrative search warrant. The court said that:
Appellants have not established that the RDLC is unconstitutional on its face under the Minnesota Constitution on the ground that it permits the issuance of administrative search warrants by a judicial officer, without an individualized showing of suspicion that particular code violations exist in the rental dwelling to be inspected.
This case is significant given that rental inspections are crucial in fighting blight and crime. The landlords and tenants intend to appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court so there may be further developments regarding this. It’s even possible this could go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.
One of the biggest problems facing local governments these days is finding the resources to maintain vacant properties. These homes are empty because of the foreclosure crisis and for the most part, lenders with mortgages on the property are reluctant to pay for the upkeep so the problem falls on the city, town or village. One would think that during the worst housing disaster in our life time, state government would help local governments deal with these properties by passing legislation that makes it easier to hold lenders responsible. Unfortunately, in Illinois, little is being done by the General Assembly. Bills that would help us fail year after year. At least now we have some information as to why it’s so difficult. The Chicago Tribune this week published a long article detailing how the Speaker of the House, Michael Madigan, represents numerous banks in his private legal practice. In Illinois he pretty well controls what legislation sees the light of day and what bills do not. When I travel out of the state to do trainings, I am ashamed to say that I am from Illinois when I hear what other states are doing. For example, in some other states, if the local government cuts the grass, the cost goes on next year’s tax bill. When the taxes are paid, the local government gets paid. That doesn’t happen in Illinois. There is a law the purports to allow this process but it was drafted as to be unenforceable. Illinois is becoming a punchline to a joke that isn’t very funny.
Every time I teach I learn something. I was in Cedar Rapids at the end of last week doing a presentation at the IowACE meeting. One of the attendees told me about how she uses Facebook to investigate her cases. She’s been trying to shut down an illegal speedway that the parties insist is not a racetrack. Turns out they have a community page to, guess what, save the speedway. I have used Facebook in prosecuting people for possession of marijuana and I know that police officers use it quite a bit but this is the first time someone has told me about using it for a code violation. It is a very good idea and gives inspectors another avenue to explore. I think it might be useful in cases involving illegal home occupations. Has any one else had success using social networking in this way?
One of the constant problems I run into with defendants is trying to make sure proper service of notices or citations occurs. Too frequently defendants refuse to accept these documents making it more difficult to obtain enforcement. When I teach Legal Aspects and discuss this issue, I suggest a few crafty options. For example, you do not have to put your return address on the outside of the envelope making it obvious the papers are coming from your jurisdiction. I’ve had inspectors who have sent envelopes with balloons imprinted on them with the heading, “Prize Headquarters”. One inspector I know collects greeting card envelopes in which to send notices. When I taught at Region III recently I discussed the various ways to serve these uncooperative individuals including amending the code to include service by private carrier (doesn’t everyone sign for FedEx or UPS?) Some of the women in my class went home and took my suggestions even further. They sent the notice in a box with items (like free pens, pads of paper and magnets) to further entice the defendant to accept service. And, it worked! Thanks to the folks in IA for this tip of the day.
Yesterday when I was teaching at the Region III conference in Chasta, MN, one of the participants shared with us his experiences with Compliance Connections. It’s a website that allows municipal inspectors to get connected with the right entity to gain code compliance on a problem property. It’s sponsored by Safeguard and the inspector says he’s had unbelievable help from the website. He told us that he’s had grass cut in a couple of days, he’s gotten calls from service companies that aren’t owned by Safeguard to promise compliance and is very pleased with the results. Apparently, Safeguard is trying to reduce the number of notices of violation that lenders are receiving for vacant properties or problem properties in their portfolios. It is definitely worth checking out when you have difficulty determining who is responsible for a property. The website is located at http://www.complianceconnections.com/
I’d love to hear from people who have tried it.