Benefits of Code Enforcement
One attribute of a city that is often over looked is how...
One attribute of a city that is often over looked is how they manage Code Enforcement. Code Enforcement is one of the major factors that impact the quality of life of our residents. Code enforcement often strikes a good chord, or bad, depending on which end of the law you are on. The two sides play out like this. There is a home that is kept up to code. The structure is safe, the yard is free of debris, the grass is cut, the windows are sound, fencing is maintained and the front yard in not a storage area. The house next door next is a mess. The roof is deteriorated, there is trash in the yard, there are weeds, windows boarded up, fencing pulled down and they are storing a broken down car. These are obvious code violations. The owner is cited and must clean up the property. The owner that has maintained their house is very happy and the person cited is very upset.
The two parties have a very different view of community responsibility. One has the goal to keep their property safe and clean in order to maintain the value and the other views the code as in intrusion on what they want to do with their own personal property. Cities need to strike a balance between the two by impleiemntaing policy through codes and ordinances. Without the proper tools and management, blight cannot be addressed and property values cannot be maintained.
Cities operate under a set of codes and ordinances. They are adopted and amended by the city’s legislative body. Some codes are also set by the state and the county. In the case of state and county law, the city cannot minimize the code, but does have the opportunity to make codes stronger. Building codes and property maintenance regulations help keep residents safe, preserve the environment and maintain property values. This directly correlates with property values and the sustainably of a city.
The Code Officials are the public servants that enforce the codes. Their main goal is compliance with the code; not hearings and fines. Code Enforcement officers are assigned quadrants in the city. Within their quadrants they travel street by street to ensure that codes are not being violated. There are also Fire Marshalls that ensure public safety codes are being followed.
Code Officers are also required to address code complaints from the public. An example of this would be the property owner above; they may have reported a neighbor. Any resident or business owner can contact the city and file a complaint about a property. Code officers must respond. Often residents will complain this is selective enforcement, but it is not.
When a code officer goes out to a property there is a procedure that must be followed. Recently during our visioning session the commission discussed the process and the need to insure that the policy is uniformly implemented. The process is as follows:
An officer will observe a violation and provide a courtesy notification. This can be verbally, via the phone, or written. Not all cities do this. Our commission created this policy in order to encourage compliance. These types of administrative tools do not negate the code, but make for a softer approach to compliance.
At that time, depending on the severity of the violation, the officers will allow the property owner to correct the violation. In the event there needs to be a permit to complete repairs, the officers will follow up to make sure they have applied. They also will make sure the work was completed.
This is the ideal scenario. The property has come into compliance. It has been found nationally that in 90 percent of cases this is the result. The other cases are considered in the industry to be the “Tough Ten Percent”.
If the property owner has not taken appropriate action to correct the problem, they will be cited with a Notice of Violation referred to as NOV. This is a formal letter sent by regular mail and certified mail to the property owner of record. The letter lists the violation(s) and the property owner must reply within a specified time. Failure to respond can result in a hearing. At this point the owner still has time to correct the problem. So long as an owner can show that there is work in process, they can request an extension. If the problem is fixed before the hearing date, Staff will pull the case.
In our city there is a special Magistrate. Once the hearing date is set the owner is given 10 days’ notice to appear. At this point the Magistrate has jurisdiction. He/She can give a deadline to address the violations and reset a hearing date or can set a daily fine until the property is brought up to compliance. This is the worst case scenario. Fines will accumulate and often become liens. There is the ability to have fines mitigated if the property has come into compliance. The city has an administrative policy that provides for Staff to evaluate fines and provide an appeal to the City Manager.
Over the past years the mitigation policy provided a threshold for the City Manager to provide relief on accumulated fines. Mitigation is focused on the end goal of compliance; not fines. The City Manager has the ability to negotiate mitigations. The thresholds are 5% on homesteaded property and 10% on non-homesteaded. The amounts that were established were sensitive to the fact that the taxpayers should not carry the burden of costs from non-complainant property owners. Often these thresholds covered the cost, but in some cases have not.
Keeping with the goals of compliance and wanting costs paid in full by the non-complying owners, the City Commission adopted a resolution clarifying policy. In both cases; homesteaded and non-homesteaded; actual cost or percentage, whichever is greater, must be paid. In the event of a Neighborhood Improvement Program participating property, the minimum payment will be set at $500. In hardship cases such as death illness, elderly, financial and or catastrophic the fine could be reduced further.
In a community like Hallandale Beach, the majority of residents do take pride in their homes and business. Many basic property maintenance codes are fairly easy to adhere to. All they take is some time and sweat effort.
It is an honor to invite you to join me and the Hallandale Beach Area Chamber for my “State of the City Address” on Thursday, February 21st at the Community Cultural Center. The event is open to the public. Lunch is available and reservations are being accepted, Members $15 and Non Members $20. For guests that do not plan on lunch, I anticipate my presentation to begin at 12:30 PM. Or a reservation and more information contact the chamber www.hallandalebeachchamber.com or call 954-454-0541
As always please feel free to contact me at any time with your questions and concerns at my office 954-457-1318 or cell/text 954-632-5700 or e-mail me at www.MayorJoyCooper.com