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.
Recently I was interviewed by MSN Real Estate for an article on working without a permit. The article just appeared online entitled “When Homeowners Go Rogue”. It’s a very thorough article about the dangers of working without a permit, hiring unlicensed contractors or failing to research a property before buying it. Much of the article is based on my interview with Marilyn Lewis, the author, and it mentions my book, “The Building Process Simplified”. It may be a worthwhile article to disseminate to the public in your local jurisdiction.
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?
One of my pet peeves are building permits that don’t have a set expiration date. Most of the building codes have their permits expire 180 days after no work is done. However, this leaves open the potential for a permit to last a long time. For example, if a person pounds in a couple of nails every other month, it would be tough to prove in court that the permit expired. Recently, inspectors in my area did a survey to see what various jurisdictions did with permit expirations. I particularly liked Crystal Lake, IL’s approach. A permit for commercial construction lasts 1 year and a residential one lasts 6 months. In addition, there is a provision for a special permit with specific conditions. That would be very useful in a situation where a builder has been remiss in moving a project along. Recently, I had a case where as a condition of a sentence, the defendant agreed to a timeline of construction. It was not part of the permit because there was no provision for such a thing. It would have been helpful if the permit could have been issued with specific deadlines. The Crystal Lake ordinance also has provisions for extensions. I would rather see a set expiration date with a possibility of an extension rather than have to guess when a permit expired.
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?
An owner of a building in Chicago received a big shock when his building was torn down without his knowledge. He alleges in a civil lawsuit against the city that he was never served with papers for the demolition. A person with the same name received the papers instead. When the owner did not show up for the hearing, a default judgment was entered against him and the court ordered the building demolished. This is not that unusual a problem, especially when a structure is not owner occupied. I have seen warrants issued for the arrest of a person who had nothing to do with the violation but had the bad luck to have the same name as the offender. This is why obtaining proper identifying information about an offender is important. That would include a name, date of birth, height, weight, eye color, and in a perfect world, a driver’s license number. I think that some inspectors are a bit cavalier about this type of information but it can save the inspector and the local jurisdiction from a nasty lawsuit, like the one in this case. Often the best time to obtain identifying information is when a person applies for a permit. If things take a turn for the worse, the inspector already has the information.
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.
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?