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Firefighter dies: no permit

January 7th, 2016 1 comment

A firefighter tragically died in Chicago recently when responding to a call.  Unbeknownst to him, the elevator shaft was open where the elevator was being removed, allegedly with no permit.  Because of the smoke, he had no way of knowing about this hazard and was killed in the fall.  I have been preaching for years about the danger of working without a permit.  People cut corners and don’t get the proper permits usually due to the cost or because they don’t want government scrutiny. People die because of this and first responders are often the victims.

I recently had my own experience regarding permits when we needed a new furnace.  After speaking with the salesman, I asked whether a permit was needed in my village.  He basically said that he wasn’t sure and if we “wanted” to get a permit, we could inquire but many people don’t want “strangers” in their homes and don’t bother.  I checked with the building official I used to work with and it turned out I needed one. (In Illinois, not all towns require one).  As I told this story to a number of inspectors, they told me that by getting the permit, it pretty well assures me that the installers would not cut corners because they know they will get caught. My opinion is that the salesman was trying to discourage me from getting a permit.  I told him so and also that I wouldn’t pay the remainder of the cost until the installation passed inspection.

When a permit is required, it is often because someone died or was injured sometime in the past because of the nature of the hazard.  The general public doesn’t understand this and thinks it’s a money making scheme.  That has not been my experience.  The inspectors it has been my privilege to work with care about safety.  Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like this to educate the public.

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By popular demand, the code violation Christmas tree

December 11th, 2013 No comments
Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree

Oh, Christmas tree, oh, Christmas tree

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Hoarder?

March 24th, 2013 No comments

Hoarder dog

Sometimes you just need to laugh.

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Inspector caught on camera inspecting roof from the ground

November 23rd, 2012 No comments

Given the technology that is all around us, an inspector needs to act as if everything he or she does is being videotaped.  Unfortunately one inspector in Largo, Florida didn’t follow this rule and ended up getting caught by an owner’s surveillance camera.  It shows the inspector walking right past a ladder.  His boss said he was “counseled” regarding this way of inspecting but no other steps were taken to discipline him according to a report by NBC Channel 8 in Tampa Bay.

When the chief building inspector went to the property, he found numerous deficiencies with the roof.  The public responded by arguing that cities just want the permit revenue but don’t want to spend time doing quality inspections.  This is very bad publicity because we justify what we do by asserting public safety. You can watch the video by following the link.

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Religion and building codes

November 6th, 2012 No comments

Morristown N.Y. recently settled a case with the Amish community over failure to follow the local building code. The Amish had contended they did not need to adhere to the code because of First Amendment freedom of religion considerations.  However, they ultimately worked out an agreement whereby criminal charges were dropped.  The town recognized that certain building techniques met the code and the Amish agreed not to use other ones that were not deemed proper.  Inspectors would install smoke detectors but there would be no enforcement subsequent to the installation. Amish communities are actually growing in the United States.  The Washington Times reported that other disputes have arisen in the past with Amish communities over codes but usually it involves waste disposal and outhouses.  This is the first time I have heard of the First Amendment being a defense to a building code.  I’d be interested to hear if any readers have experience with this issue.

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Threats to code enforcement inspectors

November 17th, 2011 4 comments

I was recently contacted by a student doing a study about how code enforcement officers handle interactions with anti-government extremists. I’m fortunate that I haven’t encountered this type of threat very often but I promised her I would reach out to my readers to see if anyone has had to deal with this sort of problem. How have you handled it?

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Mold and foreclosures

July 14th, 2011 2 comments

There was a very interesting story on National Public Radio yesterday about the relationship between mold and foreclosures. One realtor interviewed said,

“I have a release form that I use, and if the property has got a lot of mold in it, I don’t even let my own husband go in it without signing this disclosure because I don’t want the liability,” she says. “I had one really interesting [one]. It was the middle of winter. There were icicles coming out of the windows above the garage, no heat, but it was 80 degrees inside of the house because it was self-composting.”

The story said that in some states more than 50% of the foreclosed homes have mold and mildew issues.  I’ve seen a few of these usually involving burst pipes during the winter.  This story raises the frightening possibility that just by sitting vacant, nature takes over the structure when air conditioning and heating no longer are used.

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Judges and Code Enforcement

December 9th, 2010 No comments

Having the support of the judiciary is critical in obtaining compliance.  I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have judges who really understand how important code enforcement is in maintaining communities.  Usually when a judge is new, he or she knows little about code enforcement (it is a very narrow area of the law).  I view my role as trying to  educate them on the issues and the law as I prosecute my cases.  Once they see that the inspectors and I are trying to fairly enforce the code for the good of the neighborhood, they are usually supportive and listen closely to my recommendations.  Recently, a judge in Ohio chastized a violator, fining a corporation $129,000 for property maintenance violations in an apartment complex.  http://www.middletownjournal.com/news/crime/complex-hit-with-129-000complex-hit-with-129-000-in-fines-1023227.html The judge said

“I’m embarrassed and ashamed these conditions exist in the city of Fairfield … We build housing in Haiti, in Africa, but in my own backyard, we have people living in filth. It’s disgraceful and it makes me sad that the working poor don’t have a better place to live.”

Too often it is the working poor who suffer when landlords don’t keep up their property.  Judges play a crucial role in righting this wrong.

Half Built Homes and Neighborhood Values

October 19th, 2010 1 comment

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.

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More Delays in Foreclosure Proceedings

October 16th, 2010 1 comment

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.

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